I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The hostile threat that our country faces comes in many forms, and is ever evolving. We must not only keep pace with such threats, but stay ahead of them to make our country safe, and an even harder target for those who wish to harm us. Those who mean us harm do not stand still, and neither can we.
The terrible chemical weapons attack on Salisbury by the Russian state in March 2018 is just the most obvious of the types of threat that we now face. State threats come in multiple forms. There are physical threats to people and to life, such as assassination, poisoning, forced repatriation and harassment, and there are threats to our own way of life and our values, including sabotage, espionage and interference. Those are supplemented by less physical but equally damaging threats: cyber threats, malware, fraud, extortion, and intellectual property theft. There are threats to geostrategic interests, and sadly, as we all know only too well, we face home-grown threats as well. Last year, each and every one of us in the House was shattered by the murder of our dear colleague and friend Sir David Amess.
We know that the nature of the threats we face is changing. We must protect our country from the old challenges, but also confront the new ones. We have seen in the last year alone how quickly and profoundly the world can change—in Afghanistan, for instance, and with the conflict resulting from Putin’s terrible war on Ukraine. The House has also been reminded that some countries are only too happy to interfere with our political system.
I am very grateful. I was waiting for that little phrase—I hoped it might come up. Some of us are very concerned about how state actors from other countries who wish us ill might seek to undermine the democratic process in the House, might seek to infiltrate Parliament, and might seek to gain intelligence through Members of Parliament. Would the Home Secretary be interested in an amendment that might seek to address what I think is still a lacuna—a gap—in the legislation that she is proposing by dealing specifically with MPs and how they might, perhaps inadvertently or perhaps deliberately or recklessly, be helping foreign state actors?
I know from our time together in the Foreign Affairs Committee of not just the hon. Gentleman’s interest in this issue, but the significance of an issue that is growing and growing. I will say more about that later in my speech, but let me say in response to his question that we are looking into all sorts of lacunas. There are certain ways in which existing practices take place, not just in this House but across Parliament—in both Houses—and we need, collectively, to find ways of addressing that. We are naturally looking into how we can protect our political system, and I will expand on that later.
The Parliamentary Security Director is particularly concerned about, for example, the all-party parliamentary groups, which, while obviously great in many respects, are often funded by other countries, some of which do not wish us well, and sometimes that funding comes indirectly. I wonder whether we need to change our practices in the House to make sure we have tidied that up as well.
The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to what we, as a House, need to do for our country to preserve our democracy and the function of our political and democratic institutions. All-party parliamentary groups are a well-trodden path when it comes to inquiries and investigations, and various Committees, including the Select Committee on which the hon. Gentleman is represented, have also touched on this issue. These are exactly the areas in which we have to raise the bar, and I believe that others around the world will look to us, particularly through this legislation. There are areas—I will deal with them later in my speech, and I know that the House will debate them later this evening—in which we know that exposure has been significant, and we have to shut that down. The risks are very high.
Diplomacy and diplomatic engagement at every stage is the proper way in which we should work with other countries and Governments. That means not letting hack and leak operations force Governments into positions or lead to the risk exposures that colleagues have touched on and that many reports and wider work have highlighted. As for the type of threats that we are exposed to, hack and leak is just one example relating to cyber; there is also the threat from trolling and organised crime, which persists in many of the domains that we are discussing.
The UK is a leader in this, with our Five Eyes and international partners. Our commitment to NATO remains steadfast and we should never, ever lose sight of that. Those institutions and organisations are also adapting to the threats and risks that we face globally.
I understand that there will be a programme in Northern Ireland tomorrow night that confirms what the Secretary of State referred to—that there are economic crime gangs stretching from Russia right through Europe across to the United Kingdom. Will the Bill address the issue of organised crime gangs that stretch into Northern Ireland and are laundering money?
I thank my hon. Friend for his incredibly important question. The Bill will cover aspects of hostile state activity, and he will hear the details of that as I make progress with my remarks. Much of the work on organised crime and criminality in the United Kingdom is led by the National Crime Agency, and it is heavily involved in this work as well. As well as money laundering, we have debated sanctions in recent months. Some of our financial work to follow the money is embedded in the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022, which is part one of the legislation, and we will introduce the economic crime Bill—part two of the legislation—in which there will be much more of that work.
Money laundering is one aspect of organised gangs’ criminality. For people to have the money to launder, a whole sequence of criminality goes with that. That could involve drugs and firearms and, tragically, as we know, people smuggling. We know that the case in Purfleet, in which 39 people died tragically in the back of a lorry, emanated from organised criminality in Northern Ireland. We were able to take that case to court through the work of the police and the National Crime Agency. There is, of course, much more that we need to do collectively.
We have to ensure that we have every possible domestic lever to keep our country safe and prevent terrible acts of criminality and harm from occupying a permissive environment in which they can fester and grow. The Bill brings together vital new measures to address the evolving and ever-changing threats that we face and to protect the British public—to protect our country and our citizens—by modernising aspects of counter-espionage laws.
I do not think that anybody would question the Home Secretary’s commitment to the safety that she is trying to engender for the British public, but I draw her attention to the comments of Andy Hall QC—her adviser on counter-terrorism—who raised concerns about some of the thresholds with respect to the use of assets and money. He oversees the equivalent legislation elsewhere, so he knows well what he is talking about. Although I think that we are all going in the same direction, can we be careful in Committee and on Report to take on board what he says to make sure that we do not undermine the rights of British people while we are protecting them?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the Bill has been constructed in a sensitive manner with our agencies and partners, based on expertise and insight. This is about how the laws will be applied to individuals in specific cases, so the sensitivities must always be considered. A case-by-case approach is rightly required when it comes to the application of our laws, as well as to law enforcement and how we pursue these matters further.
The Bill brings together many measures, but I would like the Chamber to indulge me for a minute—particularly off the back of this weekend—as I pay tribute to our world-class law enforcement and intelligence agencies. We were all touched to see the numbers of people who came to London to see Her Majesty and celebrate the platinum jubilee. Our law enforcement and intelligence agencies came together, ensuring that in every aspect of our celebrations the British public were kept safe by remarkable people, who worked tirelessly; I pay tribute to them. It is their expertise that we are trying to preserve, enhance and develop through the Bill. We want to ensure that they have all the tools and protections they need to deal with this ever-changing and evolving landscape.
May I also pay tribute to the agencies? When I saw all those people on the Mall, I thought, “My goodness, if something had gone wrong, imagine what that would have looked like.” It was an extraordinary effort, and the Secretary of State is right to pay tribute to them. It is also right that we protect them, but protections for whistleblowers in the security agencies are missing from the Bill. When the Bill has come before the House previously, there have been efforts to provide that, including through the amendment tabled by Mr Davis. There was also the Office of the Whistleblower Bill in the House of Lords. What are the Secretary of State’s thoughts on protecting whistleblowers?
The hon. Lady is right that the protection of whistleblowers is vital. I will be frank: we need to find the right measures and means to do that. She has highlighted the current debates and thoughts on the issue. We need to find the right balance. Whistleblowers play an integral part in these matters, and she will hear additional points on the subject later in my speech.
I do not want to dwell too much on whistleblowers, but the Bill does not address the Official Secrets Act 1989, so there is an absence of a public interest defence and all the bits around that. What is the logic of not addressing all those aspects in the primary legislation?
I will answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question very specifically. He is right about the public interest defence, on which the Law Commission has recently opined. We are not bringing forward reform of the OSA 1989, mainly because we recognise that the issue is complicated, not straightforward. If it were straightforward, we would be able to deal with it in the form of a clause. However, there are various sensitivities. For example, in situations where there may have been wrongdoing or where we think there is a public interest in disclosure, it is about finding the right balance; a public interest defence is not always the safest or most appropriate way to bring that matter forward.
We are not shy of the issue and are certainly not ignoring it, but it is important that we focus on ensuring that individuals can make disclosures safely, which means protecting them through safeguards and proper routes. That work is still under way, and we need to go through it in the right way.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for taking a further intervention on this point. Three of our four Five Eyes partners—New Zealand, Australia and Canada—have some form of public interest defence. The example of those jurisdictions has shown that a public interest defence works and does not lead to a flood of unauthorised, damaging disclosures or an excessive risk to national security. I am quite sure that an amendment will be tabled at some point to introduce a public interest defence; Sir Robert Buckland—the former Lord Chancellor—is thinking about it. Will the Secretary of State give such an amendment serious consideration?
Let me say for the assurance of all colleagues in the House: absolutely, we need to find the right balance. The hon. and learned Lady has touched on our Five Eyes partners, which have introduced many other aspects that I will mention later in my speech, but they are seeing unintended consequences. We want to work through much of the detail, and we will work with all colleagues in this ongoing process.
I am at a bit of a loss to understand why the Government have not brought forward reform of the 1989 Act, because the security services, in evidence to the Intelligence and Security Committee, has said it is unfit for purpose—I think even the Government have admitted that, and so has the Law Commission. If we do not amend or substantially change that Act, we will have a situation where someone can get life for foreign espionage under this legislation, but only two years under the Official Secrets Act 1989. Surely this is an opportunity to update all that legislation? I cannot understand why the Government are doing things in this way.
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, whether that is the view of the Law Commission or others, reform of the Official Secrets Act is complicated and not straightforward. I can tell colleagues that no one would be happier than I to present a reform agenda in that space, but it is not straightforward—[Interruption.] I appreciate colleagues’ gesturing on the Back Benches, but it is important that on this complex reform we continue to engage with a wide range of interests and give all due consideration to a number of concerns, because there are many, many concerns being raised.
I, too, am a little mystified at why the Home Secretary is not seeking to reform all the Official Secrets Acts—the entire regime—with this once-in-a-generation piece of legislation. If she is not doing it in this Bill, can she tell the House when it will be done? Is there a timeline for reforming the Official Secrets Act 1989?
Without pre-empting the work that is taking place in Government right now, I want to give that assurance. That is also based on the Law Commission’s recently published review. However, as I have already said, a wide range of work is required in terms of engaging stakeholders and looking at all aspects of the law itself. These issues take time, but the Government are working on them right now, and I can assure the House that as soon as we can, when we find the right moment, we will come back to this.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend; I know she wants to move on from this subject and there are other things to speak about, but on the point she makes about further work on the 1989 Act, which she is right to say is complex, does she accept that there is some urgency? Juries are in effect creating their own public interest defences when they try these cases. Would it not be far better if we in Parliament were able to define those defences properly, rather than inviting juries to do so ad hoc, without direction from the judge?
I do not disagree at all with my right hon. and learned Friend. I see my former colleague and former Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon, in his place; this is an area that we have discussed in the past because of its significance. The types of crisis we see ourselves involved in—hostile states, deprivations, you name it—are growing and growing. We must find a way to get this right. That is the work we need to do and that must be the right focus of attention, but of course the Bill is part of this Government’s legislative agenda on protecting our country and making it safe.
Colleagues will be aware that the Bill was designed in close consultation with our colleagues and counterparts and the security services. It builds on the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 and on the National Security and Investment Act 2021, which gives the Government powers to scrutinise and intervene in business transactions such as takeovers to protect national security. It also builds on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which gives the police and the courts greater powers to keep us safe and deliver justice.
We have already touched on the fight against people smugglers and the removal from our country of those who seek to do us harm. The Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 also helps to drive dirty money out of our country. At the same time, the House will be well aware that the Online Safety Bill seeks to tackle extremists and the people who do the most appalling things and hurt children, and I have already touched on the fact that there will be further legislation on economic crime and corporate transparency.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that we address the role of big social media platforms in amplifying and promoting extremist content, which they have done, as well as profiting from financial crimes? Is it not important that, while we get our own laws right in this House, there should be proper regulatory enforcement on tech companies to ensure that they are responsible for their role in promoting such content?
I thank my hon. Friend, who has been leading the way through the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee and all the other work that has taken place on online harms. I am grateful to him for his engagement on all of this. He is absolutely right about holding the companies to account. I think it is fair to say that each of us, every single day, becomes more and more appalled at some of the material that circulates online—harmful content and the most appalling content around children. Even when it comes to terrorist acts, platforms are too slow when it comes to pulling some of this shocking material down. Let me give two examples from recent months: the situation with a synagogue in the United States where material was still circulating and the tragedy in America that took place with the school shooting. That is exactly why we must continue to hold the platforms to account.
State threats are becoming increasingly assertive and sophisticated. That is the key to the work that we are focused on in terms of how we tackle this new sophistication. We can never be passive in the face of malign covert activity designed to interfere with our national security and also our economy and democracy. The threats we face are everywhere, and we face them every single day. Many, many plans are disrupted by our intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies before they can be enacted. That is a sobering point, because on an annual basis we remind the public of the number of plots that have been thwarted and the level of activism that exists out there that seeks to harm our citizens and our country. It is our priority—my priority—to ensure that we stay ahead of the multiple threats we face. We all have a responsibility to our country and our public to keep them safe. That is why I know that the whole House will debate these measures in a sensible, measured way as we come together through this Bill to really focus on some of the challenges that we are exposed to and that we see day in, day out.
I thank the Secretary of State for all the work she is doing on this issue. On the foreign lobbying aspect of the Bill, I know that the Government are working through some options at the moment and have nothing concrete, which is fair enough, but what reassurance can she give the House that there will be quite a tight definition that is reasonably demanding on those people—those Chinese, Russian and Iranian fronts of covert influence operations—who we need to be tough on, rather than something a little bit weaker and maybe not fit for the purpose of the age?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has touched on lobbying, as just one example, but we could expand the list. We have discussed in this House other enablers and facilitators, whether it is through Parliament or other means, to get access to the state, or institutions or arms of the state. I spoke earlier about the lacunas—the areas that we have to close down, or the grey zone, across the board. My hon. Friend has spent a great deal of time on this issue through the Foreign Affairs Committee. He is very much pursuing it and we look forward to working with him on it.
I am listening carefully to what the Home Secretary is saying, but why is there not in the Bill the foreign influence registration scheme that was called for by the Intelligence and Security Committee report on Russia in 2020? She said that the Government are working on it, but the United States have had this legislation since 1939 and the Australians brought in emergency legislation in 2018, so what is so difficult if one country has had it for over 70 years and the other one has brought it in more recently? Why is it not in the Bill? Is it going to be inserted later by an order of the House, which would be unfortunate as we have not had a chance to debate it today?
Our intention is to bring forward foreign agent registration and it will be brought forward in the Commons; let me give that assurance. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman asks what is so difficult about it. There are a number of difficulties. It is not just a case of lifting and shifting what the US and Australia have done. We have been working with our Five Eyes colleagues. There have not just been many debates but we have working with colleagues who have themselves had difficulties in some parts of enforcement. We have had very close links with our Australian counterparts in terms of workability. We want to get it right. There will be an open debate about it in Committee and everywhere else, and we look forward to working with the right hon. Gentleman on that.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment because the foreign influence registration scheme is very important. May I commend to her the details of the Australian scheme, particularly the specific provision that that makes consistent with our commitment to the rule of law, which is a specific exemption for legal professional privilege? This is not a technical point. It is very important to make sure that the scheme is legally robust, nationally and internationally. The Australians make it work, so I hope that we have time to debate that issue.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. These changes and measures are not straightforward. I can say to colleagues from the Floor of the House that, having had many discussions directly with our counterparts in Australia over the past 18 months, some aspects of the scheme work, but some do not. It is in our interests to make sure that we get this right. Colleagues need to come together on this. We need to work collectively—not just on the technicalities, but on the legal points. It is the legal application that will matter in terms of making a material difference.
I think I heard the right hon. Lady give us a commitment that the provisions will be introduced in time for Committee stage in the Commons, which is very welcome. We can then try to make sure that we get this right. I hope that she will confirm that I did hear her correctly and that the provisions will be introduced at the earliest stage in the Commons.
That is exactly what I said.
While these considerations are important, we should also reflect on the fact that the Bill is informed by extensive public consultation. It is informed not just by the work of our counterparts in the Five Eyes and other countries, and by legislation that has been introduced by others, but by our evolving work with our law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Those agencies are at the heart of the application of this work. They will be the ones who will be leading the enforcement, putting the laws into practice and dealing with the practicalities of this work. The Bill also builds on the difficult and necessary work undertaken by my right hon. Friend Mrs May, who corralled the unprecedented international response to the barbaric Salisbury attacks. This Bill is a culmination of much of the work that she set in train, and we have also been in discussion with her about this Bill as well.
We should not forget that, in response to the Salisbury outrage, the UK expelled 23 undeclared Russian intelligence officers. Twenty-eight other countries and NATO supported us, resulting in one of the largest collective expulsions ever—of more than 150 Russian intelligence officers. That led to the degrading of Russian intelligence capability for years to come, and we have more cause than ever to be grateful for that today.
The National Security Bill completely overhauls and updates our espionage laws, which date back to the second world war—in some cases, to the first world war. It also creates a whole suite of measures to enable our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to deter, detect and disrupt the full range of modern-day state threats. The Bill includes a range of new and modernised offences, alongside updated investigative powers and capabilities. Those on the frontline of our defence will be able to do even more to counter state threats. Additionally, the Bill will prevent the exploitation of the UK’s civil legal aid and civil damage systems by convicted terrorists by stopping public funds being given to those who could use them to support terror.
I now turn to specific measures in the National Security Bill. The foreign power condition provides a clear approach to determining whether offences or aggravated offences are being carried out for a foreign power, or on their behalf, or with the intention of benefiting a foreign power. Many of the offences introduced in the Bill apply only when the foreign power condition is met and it prepares us to face tomorrow’s threats as well as those that we face today.
We are comprehensively updating the laws that deter and disrupt espionage, as well as enhancing the ability of our law enforcement and intelligence services to investigate and prosecute those who spy on behalf of foreign states. We have already had cause to strengthen visa screening of Chinese academics and researchers in sensitive areas of research, and to step up engagement with our higher education and research sectors to alert them to the threats and risks of Chinese espionage. Three reformed offences in the Bill will combat the modern threat from state-linked espionage and related harmful conduct.
One of the UK’s greatest strengths is that we have absolutely world-leading research and innovation, but as we have seen too often it is the target and subject of hostile activity by foreign states. A new offence of obtaining or disclosing trade secrets will help us to respond to that threat more effectively. It will specifically target the illicit acquisition or disclosure of sensitive trade, commercial or economic information by foreign states, as the value of these is directly linked to secrecy. The offence will apply only where the foreign power condition is met and will carry a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
The Bill will also make it a criminal offence to aid the UK-related activities of a foreign intelligence service. This, too, will carry a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. That means that, for the first time, it will be an offence to be an undeclared foreign spy working in the UK. We know that foreign intelligence services can have malign intentions: for example, as the US and UK set out in April 2021, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR, has been behind a series of cyber-intrusions, including the extremely serious December 2020 hack of SolarWinds, the American software company.
The Bill will reform the offence of obtaining or disclosing protected information. Where a person knows, or ought reasonably to know, that their conduct
“is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom, and…the foreign power condition is met”, they could now face a life sentence.
I am curious about the use of the word “prejudicial”, which I reread several times this morning, rather than “damaging”, which appears in other legislation. How is “prejudicial” to be defined where conduct does not actually cause damage?
Definitions are important, of course, but on a case-by-case basis much of the work will link to the activity and the intelligence that is provided about the individual. All sorts of elements could come together to make that case. As I have touched on, much of this will be done on a case-by-case basis; it will be based on intelligence, on the conduct of the individual involved, on the impact they would have on our national security and on the threat they pose.
The Bill will create two offences relating to access to prohibited places—sites that are vital to our national security. One will require a person to be acting for a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the UK; the other, which carries a lesser sentence, applies to unauthorised conduct. There are sensitive sites that are particularly vulnerable to threats from foreign powers. We need greater scope to respond to new tactics and particularly to technology. The Bill will give us that ability.
There is a serious threat from state-linked attacks on assets, including sites, data, and infrastructure critical to the UK’s safety or interests. The sabotage offence will likewise apply where a person knows, or ought reasonably to know, that their conduct is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the UK and where the foreign power condition is met. It, too, comes with a maximum sentence of life.
It is completely unacceptable for the integrity of our democracy to be threatened by state threats. In January, I made a statement to the House about an individual who knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist party and targeted Members of Parliament for a number of years. As I said in January,
“this kind of activity has recently become more common, with states that have malign intentions operating covertly and below current criminal thresholds in an attempt to interfere with our democracy.”—[Official Report,
The individual in question had links to the United Front Work Department, which is part of the Chinese Communist party, and had not been open about the nature of these links. Meanwhile, China has sanctioned critics of its regime, including Members of this House. That is not remotely conducive to open and honest discussion made in good faith.
This part of the Bill is particularly welcome because it recognises that individuals have a duty to look at who they are giving information to, and should not act as a useful idiot and then sound surprised when they find that the information is going to a hostile state. Can my right hon. Friend please advise whether that would impact on Members of Parliament, not just on members of the public?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In this specific case, the point about individuals with malign intentions operating covertly and quite dishonestly, but below a criminal threshold, was exactly the challenge we were faced and confronted with earlier this year, which is why we need to bring in these changes.
As we go about our often quite routine duties as Members of Parliament dealing with some quite bread-and-butter issues, it is easy to forget that we may sometimes be the object of attention of foreign intelligence services. Is there more that could be done to bring to the attention of Members of Parliament the realities of the threat we face as individuals?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Other hon. Members who intervened earlier in this debate spoke about the role of Parliament and the security directorate here, with which we are working closely, as are our intelligence and law enforcement colleagues.
I am afraid that I think this is where reality bites for all of us. Look at the changing world in which we live and the threats coming our way. I think we have to have even more curiosity about some of the approaches made to us. I say this because we of course want to go about our lives as freely as possible. We love our democracy, and our democracy and our free society must continue to flourish along with free speech. Of course, free speech is not necessarily a value universally held by those who want to target us and seek to do us harm.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. With this whole culture, and it is a culture, of covering up through other acts the intent of some organisations—the Chinese Communist party, for example—those seeds have already been established. That is why we have to find the right ways and the most sensitive and appropriate ways to address these practices. They have become long-established practices, and we are now only scratching the surface with the work that has been taking place in addressing them.
A new foreign interference offence will enable the disruption of illegitimate influence conducted for or on behalf of foreign states seeking to advance their interests or to harm the UK. It will come with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. It will be an offence for foreign powers to interfere inappropriately with the UK’s democracy and civil society through covert influence, disinformation and attacks on our electoral processes.
On the disinformation point, we know that the Russian state and other states have used disinformation as a weapon. Where there are proven cases of foreign intelligence networks, such as the Internet Research Agency in St Petersburg, seeking to interfere in the political process in the UK or to incite violence, would social media platforms, when informed of the existence of these networks, be required to act against them under this legislation?
Importantly, this is where we need to join up both ends of the legislation. That is absolutely vital, through this Bill and the wider work on online harms, but there are changes that we certainly want the platforms to be putting in place. We have touched on the accountability of platforms already, but there is just so much more that they need to do and which is their responsibility.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about how, for example, if we look at counter-terrorism offences and platforms’ approaches to footage online, GIFCT—the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism—has led the way on some significant change. That is what we need to see across the board here, and we really need them all to come together.
On foreign influences, why does the Bill cover someone who “intends” to have a negative impact? Elsewhere, the Bill talks about behaviour that is “reckless” and individuals who “ought reasonably to know” that their behaviour would be damaging. Can I ask why there is this difference between the two? Surely it would strengthen this part of the Bill to have the “reckless” and the “ought reasonably to know” behaviour test.
At the end of the day, we are focused on individuals who are trying to do harm to our country. I will look specifically at that—obviously, I will—but intent is also based on the information and activity that can come together around some of the individuals. Right now, we are only referring to much of this on a case-by-case basis, but as we have learned with recent examples, some of which I might come on to, we can see the intent and the harm in the sequence of activity that has taken place around individuals.
I am extremely grateful to the Home Secretary, who I know is trying to move to a peroration. On the issue of dynamism, intentions alter and threats change. The Bill creates the scope to take action against a changing terrorist landscape, but is there sufficient flexibility in the Bill to alter its provisions in accordance with those changing intentions and changing threats?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, that is the whole purpose of legislation. As I said in the first part of my remarks, we cannot remain static; we must have the agility to respond. Since February this year, with Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, techniques and tactics have changed. Yes, we are responding to them differently, but some legislative underpinning is absolutely required, as is having the flexibility and agility to respond. Hack and leak is only one example. There are so many other examples, as he will know from his time as Security Minister and from his time on the Intelligence and Security Committee. The landscape is shifting and, frankly, it is shifting fast.
We cannot wait for terrible atrocities to happen before we intervene. The Bill criminalises people who prepare to commit acts that constitute state threat offences and other harmful activity that constitutes a serious threat to life or public safety. They will face the prospect of life behind bars. When it comes to state threats, an aggravating factor will ensure that sentences for state-linked criminality recognise the seriousness of hostile activity conducted for or on behalf of foreign states. This applies to all offences not in the Bill where the foreign power condition is met.
In July 2021, the US Department of Justice announced that a New York court had unsealed an indictment against four people resident in Iran for their involvement in a plot to kidnap an unnamed Iranian-American journalist. The indictment also detailed four other individuals under surveillance by the network, including one based in the United Kingdom. Prosecutors said that one of the conspirators was an Iranian intelligence official, while the other three were assets of Iranian intelligence. Again, that speaks to the aggravating factors and the type of activity that takes place, as well as the cross-collaboration when it comes to dealing with some of those hostile state threats.
The people who engage in such nefarious behaviour are often highly skilled at keeping their activities hidden and we should never lose sight of that. Let us be under no illusion about the scale of the threat we face. In February last year, a Belgian court sentenced an accredited Iranian diplomat based in Vienna to 20 years in prison for his role in a plot to bomb a conference in Paris hosted by Iranian dissidents. The Belgian state security service stated:
“the plan for the attack was conceived in the name of Iran and under its leadership.”
Russian dissident Alexei Navalny was poisoned by Putin’s thugs and could easily have lost his life. In response, our Government enforced asset freezes and travel bans against 13 individuals and a Russian research centre.
It is vital, when creating a suite of new offences, to ensure that the police and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers effectively to investigate the threats this Bill seeks to address. I am bringing forward search and seizure powers to replace the existing investigative tool to counter complex state threats investigations. A new power of arrest for state threats activity, a new state threats detention scheme, and longer retention periods for biometric data will give the police further powers effectively to investigate these cases.
There will be some cases where it will not be possible to bring a prosecution. As is the case with counter-terrorism law, where similar challenges arise, we need a way of protecting our country. New state threat prevention and investigation measures will allow the Home Secretary to impose targeted restrictions, such as where an individual works, lives or studies, to prevent the most serious forms of harm. This is a tool of last resort. It will be used when intelligence confirms that highly damaging threat activity is planned or being undertaken, but prosecution is not realistic. These measures will be proportionate to the threat posed by an individual, and they will be subject to rigorous checks and balances, including by the courts. The Bill improves schedule 3 powers in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019.
When my right hon. Friend and I were first elected, she will remember that terrorism prevention and investigation measures were highly controversial. Would she say something about the journey from that degree of controversy to the position today in which, until my intervention, we could move swiftly past TPIMs?
I look forward to many debates with my hon. Friend on this issue. When it comes to TPIMs, there has been a considerable journey. Based on the work of our intelligence and security services—I am privileged to see, I am afraid, too much of the threats and insights, right down to the reconnaissance on certain individuals and their characteristics and the behaviours in which they participate—as I have said, this is a tool of last resort, which will be used only when intelligence confirms that highly damaging threat activity is under way. That will mean restricting the liberty of individuals if they pose a threat to the British people, to a local community and to our country.
It is important, as I have said, that these measures are proportionate to the threat posed by an individual and are subject to rigorous checks and balances, which I know my hon. Friend Mr Baker will provide, and by the courts. We should never negate or ignore that, because the courts have a significant role to play.
Changes to schedule 3 powers in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 will give police officers the ability to stop individuals at ports to ascertain their involvement in hostile activity by foreign states. The authorisation process enabling officers to retain confidential information is being streamlined to match the process using counter-terrorism laws. There are other measures, not currently in the Bill, on which we have touched. We will introduce a foreign influence registration scheme that requires individuals to register certain arrangements with foreign Governments, to deter and disrupt state-threat activity in the UK. It will bring our country into line with similar schemes run by allies, but we clearly need to ensure that that is workable here. The scheme will be included in a Government amendment, as I have highlighted.
A consistent message from respondents to our public consultation last year was that any scheme of this nature must strike the right balance between highlighting foreign influence in the UK and protecting those involved in legitimate activity from disproportionate compliance and regulatory matters. The scheme will follow precedents from the US and our Australian allies, requiring registration of certain arrangements with foreign Governments. It will strengthen our efforts to deter and disrupt state-threat activity through greater transparency and the scrutiny that it requires, with penalties for those who seek to obfuscate and hide such arrangements. It will increase the risk to those engaging in covert or malign activities for or on behalf of any country, including those identified by the UK intelligence community, such as Russia, China and Iran.
That includes the type of activity described by the Intelligence and Security Committee in its Russia report, where individuals with access to UK political institutions and public officials covertly exert influence at the behest of foreign intelligence services. It also includes the activity represented by the deeply concerning case of an individual engaged in political interference on behalf of the Chinese Communist party, as touched on earlier.
The scheme will make the UK more resilient to threats. Those who work covertly will face a choice between registering with the scheme, thus exposing their activity, and risking prosecution for not doing so. Both options present risk to state-threat actors. There is no intention, however, to create unnecessary barriers or to discourage those engaged in legitimate activity in the UK. Foreign Governments routinely engage in efforts to influence UK domestic and foreign policy. Where undertaken in an open, transparent way, this will continue to be welcome.
As I have mentioned already, we intend to bring the scheme forward before the Bill leaves the Commons. Following feedback received during the Home Office’s public consultation on this issue, and following Russian attempts to undermine European stability, it is right—we welcome all views and considerations on this—that we take the time to ensure that it is an effective and proportionate tool to counter state threats activity and to protect the UK’s interest.
On measures not in the Bill, I have already touched on the Official Secrets Act 1989 and the work that needs to be undertaken. To confirm, I will look at reform of the OSA, along with other work that the Government are doing to strengthen whistleblowing practices and transparency. In the context of Russia’s terrible invasion of Ukraine, it is essential that we prioritise measures that strengthen our defences against state threats, which this Bill does. Likewise, the Government have been considering reform of the treason laws, but right now we do not have plans to do so through this Bill.
The House passed the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill in a day, because we recognised the severity of the situation, and we recognise that at a time of crisis, we must act collectively in the national interest. However, good legislation in such complex areas must be undertaken effectively as well as efficiently to achieve the desired outcome of bolstering our agencies and protecting our nation.
The National Security Bill restricts convicted terrorists from access to civil legal aid and will enable the courts to freeze civil damages awarded to terrorists where there is a risk those funds might be used for terrorism purposes. Where that risk is ongoing, the courts will be empowered to permanently withhold those funds. When an individual commits an act of terrorism, they are rejecting the democratic state that provides the benefit of civil legal aid, and it cannot be right that the same individual can then go on to receive civil legal aid funded by that very state. These changes will end that abuse of our legal aid system.
I understand the point that my right hon. Friend is trying to make on this issue, but I urge her to be careful that there is a measure of proportionality in how we approach it. In the way the clauses are currently drafted, there could be no connection at all between the matter for which legal aid is applied and the behaviour of the terrorist. It could be many years into the future. For some lower level cases of terrorism, if there be such a thing—those who have been released back into the community and whom we seek to rehabilitate—that could be counter-productive and not consistent with our commitment to access to justice. Can we look at how we work the detail of this, rather than the principle?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention on this very point. This is an area of great interest, primarily because of the type of cases we have seen. There is no question about that. I am afraid I have been subject to too many examples of cases of this nature. I am more than happy to speak to him and others about this. We need to get the approach right, and we will. People do move forward and change in life, but that is a separate issue. As was mentioned earlier, currently we are trying to address specific lacunae.
This Bill will amend the Serious Crime Act 2007 to better protect those in the security and intelligence agencies and the Ministry of Defence when discharging vital national security functions. It will also enable more effective joined-up working with international partners to improve not only our operational agility, which my right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes has already touched on, but how we can be flexible going forward to address the changing landscape of threats.
It is worth remembering that things and situations can change for the better, as well as for the worse. Some of the UK’s closest allies today are countries with whom we have fought wars in the past, and we regularly develop new tools to keep us safe. The point is that none of this happens by chance. We should all reflect that when the Berlin wall fell back in 1989, some people thought that liberal democracy had won and history as we knew it then was at an end, yet this year, as we all know, Russia launched an unprovoked war against a neighbour.
It is right that we are vigilant, and we have to be vigilant every day, all the time. We cannot think in terms of just keeping up—we have to be several steps ahead. That is why the Bill is state-agnostic, but we need to be ready to face threats from wherever they may emanate, and the threat landscape is changing.
Keeping our country safe is not exclusively a matter for Government. It is also a matter for us as legislators. It is vital to come together on these measures and, as I have said several times, the measures in the Bill were drawn up after extensive consultation. They will mean that our courageous law enforcement and intelligence agencies will have the powers they need to keep us safe. We will have the ability to bring those who mean us harm to justice and, at the same time, to evolve and respond in an agile way to those threats. I urge the whole House to send a clear message to our adversaries that we will put the safety of the British people first by getting behind the Bill. I commend it to the House.
The Labour Opposition support the Second Reading of the Bill, and we support measures to protect the United Kingdom’s national security against threats from foreign powers, from hostile states and from terrorists and extremists. Defending our national security is the most important task of any Government, as the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer has made clear, in keeping our citizens safe, defending our historic freedoms and way of life, standing up for our values against those who seek to undermine us, and defending our security and prosperity as a nation from hostile countries who seek to attack our infrastructure, steal our assets or pit us each against one another to undermine our cohesion. There should be no party disagreement on that core principle. That is why we are clear that we will work with the Government on our national security and work constructively on scrutinising the Bill and getting the detail of the legislation right. Defending our national security would be at the very heart of a Labour Government, just as it was for Labour Governments past.
I pay tribute to those who work in our intelligence and security services, whose work is so often unseen. They work so hard to defend our liberty and democracy from threats from all sides and do so much to keep us safe. Our democracy will stay strong only if we can defend it from threats.
I thank the right hon. Lady for referring to those who keep us safe. Coming from Northern Ireland as I do, it is important to put on the record our thanks to the security forces, to MI5 and to all those who kept us safe over all those years, including me and my family. It is important that we recognise that in the House, and I know that she would like to be associated with that.
The hon. Member is absolutely right. The work done by those across our intelligence and security agencies often goes unseen and unremarked on, and, as a result, it is often unappreciated, but both sides of the House are clear about the debt of gratitude that we owe to many of those who work so hard to keep us safe.
In these debates, people often end up pitting liberty and security against each other or arguing, for example, that action to defend security constrains our liberty, that historic freedoms should be abandoned in the interests of security and that, somehow, they are in conflict. The truth is that, as we all know, both liberty and security are vital in a democracy, and they depend on each other. We need to feel secure to have the freedom to get on with our daily lives, and security measures also need to take account of the importance of the very freedoms that it is their purpose to defend. Our intelligence and security agencies also depend on public trust and, rightly, need always to be located within a strong legal framework with strong oversight. Where strong powers are needed to defend our national security, they need to be matched by strong oversight, with checks and balances to ensure that powers are proportionate and necessary, and never abused.
As ever on these matters, the right hon. Lady is making a compelling speech. Given what she has said about the apparent paradox between freedom and order, will she join me in condemning those who in breaching secrets and leaking information, claim to do so in the name of liberty but actually act in a way that is injurious to order and therefore to freedom?
I say clearly that our national security needs to be taken seriously by everybody. It should not be lightly dismissed that without it we do not have strong freedoms and liberties. The people of Salisbury had a right to the freedom to be able to walk safely on their streets and not to find their lives put at risk by a dangerous chemical attack by members of a foreign intelligence service that ultimately took a British life; patients throughout the country have a right to know that their medical records are not being hacked or interfered with by a foreign state; and our businesses, scientists and researchers, on whom our future prosperity depends, have a right to feel safe from foreign attacks that undermine the resilience of our infrastructure or from the theft of trade secrets.
Will the right hon. Lady condemn the WikiLeaks-type mass dumping of information in the public domain? It is hugely irresponsible and can put lives at risk.
Yes, I strongly do, because some of the examples of such leaks that we have seen put agents’ lives at risk, put vital parts of our national security and intelligence infrastructure at risk and are highly irresponsible. We need safeguards to protect against that kind of damaging impact on our national security.
Notwithstanding what the right hon. Lady just said, would she and her party support a narrowly and carefully drawn public interest defence, such as those that our Five Eyes allies New Zealand, Australia and Canada have, to protect civilians and journalists who make disclosures that are properly in the public interest?
The hon. and learned Lady makes a really important point. In its consideration of these issues, the Law Commission made proposals on not only strengthening some of the measures in the Official Secrets Act 1989 but how to have proper safeguards to protect whistleblowers and the public interest. I recognise that there are complex issues in respect of how to draw up the legislation and shall make further points about that.
We have just spent the past four days celebrating our Queen’s historic platinum jubilee and celebrating our shared values and traditions, which are what we defend when we defend our national security. At a time when we have seen an illegal invasion of a fellow European democracy by Russia—an act that threatens and that has attacked and undermined the national security of a fellow European nation—there could be no greater reminder to us all of the need to be resilient and vigilant in the face of threats.
The threats to our national security, democratic values and way of life have inevitably evolved over the decades. The ending of the cold war in the 1990s and the major international terror attacks, particularly by Islamist extremists from al-Qaeda and then from ISIS, alongside growing domestic far-right terror threats, have meant that the national security focus—the top priority of our intelligence and security agencies—has for several decades been on terrorist threats to our way of life but, as the Government’s integrated review made clear, the threats from hostile states have not gone away and in recent years we have seen them grow and become more complex.
“almost certainly…approved” both by the GRU and
“at a senior level of the Russian state.”—[Official Report,
We face different threats from other countries, too. MI5 recently warned publicly about the activities of an individual knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist party. The MI5 director general Ken McCallum has warned that
“the activity MI5 encounters day-by-day predominantly comes, in quite varying ways, from state or state-backed organisations in Russia, China and Iran.”
Alongside persistent hard power methods of attack, the advent of technology has also allowed soft power methods to flourish, with electoral interference, disinformation, propaganda, cyber operations and intellectual property theft used to foster instability and interfere in the strength and resilience of the state. The Home Secretary referred to the SolarWinds attack and the interference with major UK energy companies. As the Law Commission warned in its report, the Official Secrets Acts between 1911 and 1939 were enacted long before the digital age and include references to
“a sketch, plan, model, note”— the pencil notings that are a far cry from the cyber and online data interventions that modern espionage might involve.
The words of the MI5 director general are perhaps startling, when he said:
“Today, it is not a criminal offence to be an undeclared foreign intelligence agent in the UK. Likewise, it is not currently illegal to be in a key position of influence in the UK and be secretly in the pay of a foreign state. That can’t be right. To tackle modern interference, we need modern powers.”
He is right, and we agree. That is why reforms and legislation are needed to address the new threats from hostile states. That is why many of the measures in the legislation are important, for example making it possible to take action against those who are operating in the pay of a foreign intelligence agency to do Britain harm; to make it possible to defend the trade secrets of British businesses, including taking action against those who may be paid by foreign intelligence agencies or a state to leak intellectual property or trade secrets that are then used to undermine our industry and our economy; to make it possible to have stronger action against incredibly damaging cyber attacks on our critical infrastructure; and to enable early intervention to prevent damaging attacks, not just to prosecute once the damage is done.
We have questions that we want to put, points that we want to probe and amendments that we will draft because we want to work constructively with the Government to get the legislation right. I shall make some of those points now and I look forward to further discussion with the Home Secretary and the security Minister during the passage of the Bill. The first gaping hole that we see is the promised foreign agents registration scheme that the Home Secretary has said she will bring forward. We had understood that this would be the central part and purpose of the Bill, but it is currently missing. I do recognise that drafting in those areas is complex, and we need to learn from what other countries have done, but that also makes it the more important to have proper scrutiny. I urge the Home Secretary to ensure that the scheme is not brought forward at the last minute so that we do not have time to give it proper consideration in Committee or to take evidence on it beforehand.
The right hon. Lady makes an important point about the foreign agents registration scheme. Will she join me in encouraging my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider possibly amending the programme motion so that we can have a day in Committee of the whole House to consider it? It will be a large part of the Bill and doing it through amendments in Committee may be inappropriate.
I would certainly be happy to have further discussions through the usual channels about the way in which the Bill needs to be scrutinised. In the early evidence stage of the scrutiny, particularly for a Bill like this, it is important for the Committee to be able to hear evidence on this issue, in order to make sure that we get it right.
With all due regard to my hon. Friend Mr Baker, a much better approach would be exactly as the right hon. Lady describes—to have the proposal early in the Committee’s consideration and for the proper interface to operate between the two Front Benches. I know that she is richly experienced in these subjects, as is the Home Secretary, and I am sure that a proper dialogue could take place to deal with the matter that has been raised.
As I have said, these debates will rightly take place through the usual channels to ensure that we have that scrutiny. I am also keen to ensure that the evidence session can take place in plenty of time.
Another issue that Members on both sides of the House have raised is the absence of reforms to the Official Secrets Act 1989, and on that point I am slightly less clear what the Government’s intention is. My understanding from what the Home Secretary has said is that she does not plan to bring forward measures in this Bill but that she is looking at the issue further. The Law Commission has raised important issues about the need to improve prosecutions in certain areas and to have public interest safeguards, both of which are immensely important, as I think the Home Secretary has recognised. Will she and the Security Minister therefore engage at an early stage in discussions on this issue with Members on both sides of the House?
Like my right hon. Friend, I am not clear what the Home Secretary’s timetable is for reviewing the 1989 Act. However, if the Bill goes through as outlined, some of the penalties in it will be life imprisonment, and some in the 1989 Act will be two years. Having the two Acts working together will create a very difficult process. Surely the obvious thing to do is to get the reforms into the Bill as it goes through Parliament.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and he obviously speaks with the Intelligence and Security Committee’s insight on this issue. The only other consideration I would raise is that a last-minute proposal from the Government would be a problem, because we would end up not having full scrutiny, and this is an area where it is important to get the legislation right. On the points that the Committee has made about the importance of reforms to the 1989 Act, I encourage the Security Minister and the Home Secretary to have early discussions with members of the Committee, Opposition Front Benchers and Members on both sides of the House who have concerns. We will inevitably need to debate these issues during the passage of the Bill, even if the Government want to propose future legislation on a different timetable. Having those discussions at an early stage to try to get this right would be important.
We are also concerned about areas of the Bill relating to the ability of foreign powers to use misinformation and disinformation online, which Damian Collins mentioned. My understanding of the interaction between this Bill and the Online Safety Bill is that some cases where misinformation or disinformation is repeatedly put online by a foreign state will not be covered and that there will not be a responsibility on social media platforms to remove some of that material, but it would be helpful to have some clarification from Ministers. Obviously that is an area where most of us in the House would want further action to be taken and would want there to be more responsibility on social media companies to take action. We would therefore like to explore whether there are further amendments that we could bring forward to this Bill or the Online Safety Bill. That would be very helpful.
We are also concerned about direct attempts to interfere with our democracy and elections. The Home Secretary has rightly included in the Bill measures to tackle foreign interference in elections but, as the Government will know, offences make little odds if they cannot be detected or measures are rarely enforced. As the Home Secretary will know, we have urged the Government to remove the loophole that allows shell companies to be used to make donations to political parties and to hide foreign donations and donations linked to hostile states. She will also know that the former director general of MI5, Lord Evans, who is now the head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, has warned about the risks from shell companies, describing the risk from
“powerful forces out there that are trying to bring undue influence, part through parliament and part through money. We made some recommendations to close some of those loopholes but government hasn’t acted on them.”
Since the atrocity that is the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Government have had to recognise that it has been far too easy for Russian money, built up through illegal activity or state-sponsored corruption, to find its way into the London economy. Again, we have both the follow-up economic crime Bill and this Bill, but I urge the Home Secretary to ensure that the loophole on shell companies is closed and that those weaknesses in our democracy are addressed, because the loophole in itself is a threat to national security.
My hon. Friend Chris Bryant raised concerns about MPs being targeted. There are also concerns about Ministers potentially being targeted. The Home Secretary will know that the shadow Security Minister has raised questions about reports that the Prime Minister, when he was Foreign Secretary, met with a former KGB agent soon after the Skripal attack. I have not heard concerns raised that that was a planned or intended meeting, but nevertheless the reports of the meeting show how easy it is for Ministers, as well as MPs, to be targeted by agents of foreign and hostile states. I urge Ministers to provide some clarity about that meeting—whether it took place, whether civil servants were present—and about what protocols should govern how meetings take place for Ministers, what kind of debrief should happen afterwards and what kind of safeguards should be in place, and whether those will be covered by this Bill or we need additional protocols for civil servants, MPs and Ministers.
There are some areas where we will want to question the drafting of the Bill, because it is very broad. For example, there is obviously a difference between someone who is meeting the foreign intelligence agencies of our closest allies—for example an academic who meets with an Australian foreign intelligence service, providing it with useful information that might help with our joint Five Eyes security arrangements and might be in all our interests—and an academic meeting with someone from the Chinese intelligence agencies and handing over intellectual property or research information that undermines British industry.
We are keen to explore in Committee how those differences will be addressed in the Bill and how, for example, it will address some of the issues around co-operation with Ireland over Northern Ireland security issues, which will clearly raise some particular and special cases. We also want to explore what might incidentally benefit a foreign Government and what deliberately benefiting a foreign Government is, and how that is addressed. We also want to address some of the questions around the public interest and national security that hon. Members have raised.
We have already raised directly with the Minister for Security and Borders a series of questions and concerns about the drafting of clause 23, to ensure that it is not too wide and cannot be used to cover individuals committing serious crimes abroad. I welcome the letter we have received from him, but we want to pursue those issues in further detail in Committee.
Perhaps one of the most important issues that the Bill could easily address but does not yet is oversight. Because agencies rightly need to operate behind a veil of secrecy, there needs to be proper oversight to safeguard both those who work within the agencies and the national interest. The Bill rightly introduces an independent reviewer to look at the state threats prevention and investigation measures, and we know that is a parallel arrangement to the independent reviewer arrangements we have for terrorism prevention and investigation measures.
The Home Secretary will know that I have argued previously that it was wrong to replace control orders and that TPIMs were too weak. They have since rightly been strengthened. They are used in only a small number of cases, but it is immensely important that there is oversight of them, and there must be proper oversight of the STPIMs as well. It would not surprise me if they were used even less frequently than TPIMs, but there must be proper safeguards.
There is a gap in the oversight framework. The terrorism independent reviewer looks both at individual TPIMs and at terrorism legislation, so he can look at all of the aspects of terrorism legislation to see where there are gaps and whether it is not working effectively. The scrutiny by David Anderson and by Jonathan Hall has been invaluable. It has been good for Government, good for the agencies, good for Parliament, good for our national security and good for our historic freedoms and having the right safeguards in place.
That scrutiny by the independent reviewer has in the past identified weaknesses in terrorism legislation. Sometimes that has been exactly the point I raised about TPIMs becoming too weak and needing to be strengthened, but the independent reviewer has also identified areas where stronger safeguards were needed, particularly on digital measures, digital infrastructure and digital safeguards. There is a really strong case for having the same kind of independent scrutiny of the operation of these new powers on espionage. The Home Secretary has rightly said that this is important legislation, but also that this is the first time we are drawing up legislation in some of these areas and that some of the legislation has not been updated for many decades, so we should have some humility on this: Parliament will not get all the details right.
If I understand correctly—perhaps my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis will be able to help me on this—the Ministry of Defence is covered by the Defence Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the agencies and the Intelligence and Security Committee, but who covers Director Special Forces? That seems to be a bit of an oversight black hole. Where does it fit in? This does not seem to be arousing people’s attention thus far.
The hon. Member makes an important point about other potential gaps. I would be keen to discuss with him further how that could be addressed.
There is a principle here, which is that sometimes important powers are not subject to the normal public scrutiny—inevitably, because of how they need to be used in order to keep us safe and to deal with hostile threats, be it from other foreign states or from terrorists. However, that veil of secrecy makes the need for independent scrutiny all the more important. Rightly, we have the Intelligence and Security Committee and other Committees, but also things like the investigatory powers commissioners. Specifically on the terrorism legislation, the role of the independent reviewer has been immensely valuable. I urge the Home Secretary and the Security Minister to look at widening the oversight provisions in the Bill. While there might be areas of disagreement between us, we will come to a conclusion and measures will pass through Parliament, but there will still be weaknesses in them and there will still be problems with the legislation.
The right hon. Lady is making a good point about oversight and checks and balances. She mentioned the Investigatory Powers Act and the judicial commissioners. I was involved in taking that legislation through the House, as she knows. The independent reviewer’s scope is already sufficiently wide, is it not, to look at terrorism legislation per se? So I assume that she is talking about making sure that that scope is sufficient rather than establishing a different and parallel structure.
There is a very strong case for having the same independent commissioner to cover espionage and terrorism. That is obviously a matter that the Home Secretary would need to consider, but clearly, especially with the STPIMs and the TPIMs, there are overlapping issues that it would make sense for the same framework and the same independent reviewer to cover. My understanding is that at the moment the independent reviewer covers only terrorism legislation and that the provisions of this Bill will not be within their scope. It would be very easy to amend the Bill—I hope it would receive cross-party support—to allow either the same independent reviewer or a parallel independent reviewer to look at espionage legislation. That would also allow for ongoing review of whatever changes we end up concluding are needed to the Official Secrets Act 1989. Again, there will be an important need for further review to make sure that we have the right measures to protect our security and support the public interest. We can cover our many other issues with the Bill in Committee. We look forward to those exchanges and to having further discussions directly with Ministers.
I am conscious that other Members with great expertise in this area want to contribute to the debate, so I will conclude simply by saying that at a time when across Europe we are all coping with the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and supporting Ukraine’s immense bravery in standing up and responding to this appalling Russian threat; at a time when we have seen hostile state activity not just from Russia but, as the director general of MI5 has said, from countries such as China and Iran; and at a time when we all know we need to stand up for our democracy, historic freedoms, liberties and democratic values, I hope that we will be able to come together to support our national security, and continue to defend our democracy and democratic values.
It is certainly encouraging to hear such sombre but sensible contributions from both senior Front Benchers in agreement on the basis for the Bill.
To respond briefly to the question posed by my hon. and gallant Friend Bob Seely on whether there is an oversight arrangement for special forces—no, there is not. If Parliament were ever to have such an arrangement, it would probably need to be on the model of the ISC, but we are not putting in a bid for that role unless anyone proposes proportionately to increase the resources on which the Committee depends to do its already quite substantial agenda of tasks.
Almost 20 years ago—in 2004, to be precise—the Intelligence and Security Committee first recommended the introduction of a new Official Secrets Act, recognising the constantly developing and evolving dangers posed to the United Kingdom by hostile state actors. That was almost a decade prior to our 2013 report, “Foreign involvement in the Critical National Infrastructure”—Cm. 8629, if Members want to look it up—which eventually led to the National Security and Investment Act 2021, so this Government undoubtedly deserve credit for tackling at least some of the unfinished business begun by the ISC.
As in the case of the National Security and Investment Act, unfortunately today’s proposals—while taking significant steps in the right direction—still fall short in significant respects. Given the complexity of the issues addressed in the Bill, rigorous parliamentary scrutiny is essential. Not every piece of major legislation can be processed by means of a Committee of the whole House, but where it is proposed to add a major new element to a Bill after Second Reading, the whole House must have an alternative opportunity adequately to debate it.
The National Security Bill was expected to encompass three principal elements. The first is to modernise the offence of espionage and provide the police, as well as the security and intelligence agencies, with appropriate new powers and capabilities. This the Bill clearly undertakes, with its substantial proposed reforms of the 1911 to 1939 Official Secrets Acts, which we broadly welcome. The second should be to reform, or to repeal and replace, the Official Secrets Act 1989, which deals with the unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information, whether by public servants or by others, such as journalists, who are not employed by the Government. There is no trace of that in the present Bill, nor any apparent intention to incorporate the topic later.
Finally, one searches in vain for the long-heralded and much-anticipated inclusion of a foreign influence registration scheme—long advocated by the ISC and others, including the Foreign Affairs Committee—requiring individuals to declare, in a Government-managed register, any activities that they undertake for or on behalf of a foreign state. That is what we are told will be introduced by means of an amendment to the Bill, presumably in Committee or on Report. I heard the Home Secretary say earlier that it would be in Committee, which is good, but it could conceivably have been introduced even later, in the Upper House. I am glad to see the Home Secretary firmly shaking her head and ruling that out. As things stand, however, we cannot even say, with the late, great Meat Loaf, that “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”, given that one of the three has yet to appear, and another—the urgently needed reform of the 1989 Act—is not going to happen at all.
It is odd, to put it mildly, that such an important component as the foreign influence registration scheme has not been incorporated in the Bill from the outset. The proposal to introduce it by means of a later amendment can only fuel suspicions that the Bill was published, for reasons unknown, before it had fully matured; or that the plan for the scheme had been dropped, then belatedly revived—the Home Secretary is shaking her head, which, again, is good; or that the Government are perfectly well aware of the details of the scheme that they intend to introduce, but wish to undermine or weaken parliamentary scrutiny by introducing it after the Second Reading debate is over, so that the Commons as a whole cannot decide on it before the Committee stage at the earliest.
Such suspicions could be at least partially dispelled by the Government’s agreeing that a Committee of the whole House will examine the Bill at the next stage of its journey through the Commons, and that plenty of time will be allocated for us all to examine the amendment on establishing a foreign influence registration scheme at the earliest opportunity. I will happily give way to a ministerial intervention now, offering an undertaking to that effect.
I am receiving indications that I may hear something in the summing-up speech, so I shall live in hope.
As I wish to leave scope for other members of the ISC to drill down into the detail of all three areas on which the Bill ought to be focusing, I shall confine myself to just a few comments on each. First—as we have said—we warmly welcome the repeal of the Official Secrets Acts of 1911 to 1939, with their references to century-old concepts of data targets, such as “sketches” and “plans”, which have long been superseded in the digital age. The new espionage offence created by clause 1 should enable the intelligence and security agencies more effectively to combat hostile state action in a world that has undergone a technological revolution in the modern era.
Clause 2 is a worthwhile attempt to protect valuable trade secrets, although we feel that there are issues of complexity and breadth of definition which will require simplification if this new system is to succeed. Clause 3 is strongly to be supported, both for criminalising the giving of assistance to a foreign intelligence service and for empowering the agencies and the police legitimately to unravel the hostile networks involved. Clause 12 creates a new offence of sabotage, at home or overseas: causing damage to vital UK assets or infrastructure, whether intentionally or recklessly. Clause 13 introduces an offence of foreign interference, but only for conduct that involves an intention to have a negative impact on the UK, for or on behalf of the foreign power in question. We suggest that it be broadened to cover those who behave recklessly, even if an intention to aid a foreign adversary cannot be proven.
Secondly, the failure radically to reform the Official Secrets Act 1989 leaves in place a requirement to demonstrate that actual harm has been caused by a civil servant or someone outside Government service when publishing classified information. However, the act of disclosing and specifying what harm has been done will often compound the problem and increase the damage; some prosecutions thus have to be dropped in order to prevent such further harm. Although the Law Commission has offered recommendations to cater for disclosures made genuinely in the public interest, those recommendations cannot even be considered other than in the context of the repeal, replacement or at least root-and-branch reform of the 1989 Act.
I absolutely support what my right hon. Friend says about the 1989 Act, section 1(1) of which states:
“A person who is or has been…a member of the security and intelligence services;
or…a person notified that he is subject to the provisions of this subsection…is guilty of an offence if without lawful authority he discloses any information”.
There is no caveat about “damaging”. Is not the fundamental problem that a distinction is drawn between categories of person in how they are treated?
There is such a distinction. One could certainly argue that it is a graver offence for someone entrusted officially with secrets to breach that trust than for a journalist who thinks he has a scoop but knows that he might be harming the national interest to proceed nevertheless, recklessly or with deliberate intent to do harm. However, we are not talking about a spy rifling through a filing cabinet and taking pictures with his Minox camera; we are now in an age when a technician can download a gigabyte of information in a short period and have it published worldwide, unread even by the people who have published it. That is where there are huge gaps in the legislation, and closing them will require revisiting the 1989 Act.
The third leg is that there will be many practical issues with the contents and the proper parliamentary scrutiny of any amendment to the Bill to initiate a foreign influence registration scheme. Careful drafting will be required to catch those who are consciously and deliberately, or unreasonably and recklessly, acting on behalf of another state and its interests, without criminalising every parliamentarian who runs a bilateral international friendship group, for example. High on the agenda must be the issue of dodgy donations from questionable sources to political parties and campaigns—another good reason for the closest possible examination of the provisions that the Government eventually bring forward. Nevertheless, as has been pointed out, our Australian friends enacted their foreign influence transparency scheme as recently as 2018, while our US allies introduced their own legislation as long ago as 1938, so there is no shortage of precedents on which we can draw to get the legislation right and close at least one more gap in our national security arrangements.
It is a pleasure to follow Dr Lewis, the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I am grateful to the Home Secretary for setting out the detailed context of this Bill and to the Minister for Security and Borders and his team for providing a briefing before the recess and talking through parts of the Bill and answering questions on it.
I think everybody here today agrees that we need a Bill that, as the long title to this one says, makes provision
“about threats to national security from espionage, sabotage and persons acting for foreign powers”.
Indeed, as we have already heard at some considerable length, the need to update our espionage laws is clear from the Russia report, from the Law Commission report and for a million other reasons as well. For those reasons, we will support the Bill’s receiving a Second Reading this evening. Indeed, parts of the Bill could be particularly welcome, such as steps to tackle disinformation and interference in elections; those have great potential if done correctly.
However, all that does not mean that we will give the Government a blank cheque as they take the Bill through its different stages, and we would be failing in our duties as Opposition MPs if we did. That is particularly true in a policy area such as this: there is perhaps a tendency for Government, and even Parliaments, to write blank cheques for the security and intelligence services every time they come calling with a list of new powers and capabilities that they seek.
Like everybody here, for the reasons that the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State set out, I am immensely grateful for the critical work that those in the services do, day in, day out, on our behalf. They have our full respect. None the less, they are not perfect: from time to time, news stories emerge that remind us of that fact—for example, the recent BBC revelations about a particular covert human intelligence source. These agencies also have immense powers, so we should always rigorously test the need for new powers, new criminal laws and new restrictions, and we should always be on the lookout, as the shadow Home Secretary said, for ways and means that ensure that the agencies are held to account and that we get to look under the bonnet at what is going on without undermining their work or making it impossible. It is against that background that I will briefly highlight some of the issues that we will want to pursue and to test the Government on as the Bill progresses through the House.
In relation to part 1, most of the new offences seem at first sight to make sense and can be justified, though we will test whether they are a fair and proportionate response to the Russia report and the Law Commission recommendations in particular. These are complicated offences, so we will challenge the Bill to see whether the Government have gone far enough, or—more likely—whether they have gone too far. Key concepts will need close scrutiny. The foreign power condition and the foreign power threat activity definition, for example, are pivotal concepts that are also potentially very broad. The whole concept of the safety or interest of the UK could also be challenging and something of a moving feast as well.
As we have heard, clause 23 will need great scrutiny. It disapplies certain extra territorial provisions in relation to offences of encouraging or assisting crime under the Serious Crime Act 2007. The explanatory notes claim that the new paragraph that could be inserted into that Act
“ensures that those working for or on behalf of the intelligence agencies would not be liable for support they provided to activities overseas…where that support was deemed necessary for the exercise of the intelligence agencies’ functions.”
That all sounds benign, but others have made the argument that the provisions, as drafted, go way beyond what is described in those notes. For example, I hope we would all agree that, if Ministers take steps that lead to an unlawful drone killing of a family overseas, or if information is provided that leads to extraordinary rendition and torture, those Ministers should not be able to put themselves completely beyond the rule of law in those circumstances. That is exactly the type of behaviour for which we have been condemning other Governments, so if that is the impact of clause 23 there is a strong case for it to be rethought.
On that particular point, is it not more perplexing that there is the carve-out of removing the ability to be convicted for certain overseas offences, given that the defence of acting reasonably already exists?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which we will have to look at. There are other provisions in legislation that provide protection for those involved in the work of agencies, so we do not think that the case for this new carve-out has been made at all.
Part 2 will also need close scrutiny; we turn here to state threats prevention and investigation measures. I do not think that any of us here should ever feel comfortable about curtailing people’s liberties by ministerial fiat rather than as a punishment for a proven crime. In fairness, I think the Home Secretary recognised that in her speech. We have come to accept that such “prevention and investigation measures” are a necessary part of the fight against terrorism. Our position on TPIMs has been to cut their wings, improve oversight and limit their invasiveness, rather than to do away with them altogether. It may be that we end up with STPIMs as well, but we will probe the Minister closely on the case for requiring them at all.
Ministers always promise—the Home Secretary did today—that powers will not be used inappropriately and excessively. That is welcome, but they should not have the power to do things that are inappropriate or excessive in the first place, because those who follow them into office may take a different view of what is inappropriate or excessive. Restrictions have to be in the Bill rather than in ministerial undertakings.
Part 3 is also a mixed bag. We absolutely see the need for freezing and forfeiting damages that could be utilised for terrorism. There could also be an arguable case for powers to reduce damages in certain national security proceedings, but we will examine that closely. On the other hand, there is a real question over whether courts already have sufficient powers and whether there are sufficient safeguards and processes that prevent undeserving cases from winning damages in the first place, so we will again press the Minister on that.
Much less persuasive is the case for restricting legal aid in utterly unconnected proceedings on the grounds of a past conviction for terrorism. That was raised by the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill, and I am very sympathetic to that while recognising that this is one of the few “England and Wales only” provisions.
As we heard, we need to scrutinise not just what is in the Bill, but what is not—or not yet—in it, and two issues are particularly important. As has been touched on, the Minister and the Home Secretary have set out that the foreign agent registration scheme will be amended. Various complaints have been made about that not being in the Bill as we debate it today.
I return to my experience during the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022—a slightly more acrimonious piece of legislation. Having really important provisions about citizenship and age tests being introduced at pretty short notice in Committee meant that we did not have the chance to ask witnesses about them or to get briefings about them from important organisations.
Something as important as the foreign agent registration scheme needs more than a couple of days before a Committee sitting if we are going to give it proper scrutiny. I am very sympathetic to the idea of allowing us some time on the Floor of the House to debate the details. In principle, the idea is very welcome and the provision is required. However, as we all have acknowledged so far, there will be very tricky lines to draw in the sand between those who should be required to register and those who do not. We must also guard against having a massive Henry VIII clause that simply leaves it to the Government to set out the scheme at a later date. That would not be acceptable either.
Also missing from the Bill—this is apparently not going to be amended by the Government—are updates to the Official Secrets Act 1989 or any concept of a public interest defence to charges under it. As we heard, that Act is almost as out of date as the other laws that we are updating through the Bill. The Law Commission was clear that a public interest defence was required to ensure that the Government were not able to abuse legislation as a
“cloak to mask serious wrongdoing”.
It suggested a statutory commissioner to investigate allegations of wrongdoing or criminality made by civil servants or members of the public where disclosures of such concerns would be an offence under that Act. We support those ideas on the type of provisions that look under the bonnet, as I referred to earlier.
As usual, my hon. Friend is giving a considered speech and I support everything that he has said so far. Notwithstanding the Government’s reluctance to use the Bill as a vehicle to introduce a public interest defence, it is likely that a cross-party amendment would seek to do that at some point. Will he confirm that the Scottish National party—our party—would support that?
Yes, absolutely. The versions of such an amendment that I have seen look very promising and we would like to give our support to that if we can.
In conclusion, we need a Bill, and we certainly support this Bill on Second Reading. However, there is a lot for us to get our teeth into, both in terms of what is in it and what is not. We look forward to engaging critically but constructively on all these issues as the Bill progresses.
As a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I very much welcome the Bill. The first duty of any Government is to keep their citizens safe from harm, and the Bill will help us to do that by making us more resilient to the ever-changing threat posed by hostile states and their intelligence agencies.
As we have already heard from the Committee’s distinguished Chair, my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis, it first called for an overhaul of legislation on state secrets and espionage almost 20 years ago. For a number of years, it has highlighted the complex and evolving threats from hostile states. Its reports have highlighted almost constant cyber-attacks on UK businesses and institutions by foreign Governments and their proxies in organised crime, with Mr Putin’s Administration identified as one of the most prolific offenders. Its 2013 conclusions on Huawei highlighted serious concerns about activities from China.
We have some of the best and most capable intelligence services in the world. The Five Eyes partnership enables them to work closely with like-minded allies. They do incredible work in keeping us safe. We need to give the men and women of the intelligence community, in whom we place our trust to safeguard our country from foreign threats, the legal framework that they need to carry out their vital work.
The Official Secrets Act regime urgently needs updating to reflect the modern world, as we have heard from every speaker so far. That has been also acknowledged by Ministers, and the ISC and the Law Commission have both made a convincing case for reform, so the suite of new tools contained in this Bill to modernise espionage offences is very important and I urge the House to support it. In particular, it is welcome that the Official Secrets Acts of 1911 to 1939 will be overhauled and updated for the contemporary digital era.
As other Members have said, however, it is a serious concern that only a partial reform of the Official Secrets Act regime is proposed, with the 1989 legislation left unchanged by the Bill as currently drafted. As the Government have previously acknowledged, amending that legislation is an important component of the action needed to counter hostile state activity. The 1989 Act deals with unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information so as yet the Bill has little to say about the kind of case that we have seen in the United States, involving the mass theft and publication of classified information, unless that is done deliberately to benefit a foreign power.
As we have heard, key problems of the 1989 Act include, first, that it provides for a maximum sentence of only two years, even if the disclosure is potentially of hundreds of thousands of highly classified documents and even if lives are lost as a result; and secondly, the fact that to prosecute someone under that Act requires a causative link to be proved to damage occurring directly as a result of the leak. That can be difficult, not least because such proof might require highly classified information to be revealed in open court. If this Bill is to be a comprehensive overhaul of powers to counter state-based threats to our security, amendments to the 1989 Act need to be added to it.
Another conclusion of recent ISC reports is that a foreign influence registration scheme is needed. Again, significant support for that has already been demonstrated in the debate today. Such legislation in the US and Australia makes it an offence to be an undeclared foreign intelligence officer. Done right, such laws can enable the disruption of foreign intelligence gathering at an earlier stage than is currently possible, can make it easier to prosecute spies, and can increase transparency regarding foreign influence. However, such laws are not without controversy and risk. If such legislation goes ahead, it would be important to target it appropriately and avoid the imposition of unjustified compliance burdens or stigma on people and organisations carrying out what are legitimate activities in a democratic state.
There are some complex and sensitive questions that will require careful scrutiny in this House. Whether it is the 1989 Act or an agent registration scheme, I am worried that we do not have any text before us yet.
If this Bill is to be successful in ensuring that legislation on espionage is comprehensively modernised to tackle the security threats faced in the modern age, I hope that Ministers will bring forward amendments both on the OSA and on foreign agent registration. The Home Secretary’s promise at the Dispatch Box of amendments on foreign influence by the Committee stage will be warmly welcomed, but I hope a similar pace of activity will be seen on the Official Secrets Act 1989, strengthening the Bill as a comprehensive reform of espionage legislation and putting it on a sound footing for the digital age.
I am pleased to be speaking in this debate as one of the newer members of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. It is good to hear from my colleagues on the Committee, and I will try not to repeat too much of what they have said, because the Committee has of course taken a view on some of the issues covered by the Bill.
Let me begin by saying to the Home Secretary that it is unequivocally a good thing that the Government have finally brought forward a Bill to update and reform the Official Secrets Act regime, as has been made clear across the House. As many have said, the legislation relating to the Official Secrets Act regime goes back many—very many—years and is no longer fit for purpose. It is not just the Government who do not think it is fit for purpose. The Committee has said that it is not fit for purpose and the Law Commission has said that it is not fit for purpose. I have not heard anybody suggest that it is fit for purpose, so I think there is consensus across the Chamber that it needs to be replaced.
The idea of replacing the Official Secrets Act regime is to ensure that the intelligence community has the legislative powers and the tools it needs to combat the varied, complex and constantly evolving threat to the UK’s national security posed by hostile state actors. It is therefore good that the Bill as currently drafted, with its aims to modernise the offence of espionage and create a suite of more modern tools and powers for police, security and intelligence agencies to defend the UK against hostile state actors, is now before us. Although the Home Secretary has set out her intentions in legislation, she has not made it clear that she intends a comprehensive reform of the Official Secrets Act regime in total. She is reforming espionage offences, but she is not doing much at the moment about the Official Secrets Act 1989, which relates to the unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information. That is an important part of the Official Secrets Act regime, without reform of which she cannot claim that she has modernised the existing suite of powers. I agree with her—I doubt there would be much disagreement—that it is quite a difficult thing to do, but she and her predecessors have been at it for some time, helped by other parts of Parliament and by the Law Commission which have looked at the matter. Perhaps now is the time—with this Bill before us, which is meant to be a comprehensive piece of legislation—actually to make it comprehensive and come up with proper reforms.
The Law Commission has suggested a regime, and Theresa Villiers has set out that she certainly believes, as the Committee does more generally, that this reform ought to be part of this legislation. From what I gathered from the Home Secretary’s replies to interventions earlier—and I am glad if she is listening to what is being said—she is not proposing to bring forward reform of the Official Secrets Act 1989 in this legislation, nor has she set out a timetable within which she intends to bring it forward in another piece of legislation, which is a disappointment.
This Parliament will end in 2024, if it does not end sooner—of course, provisions about when Parliaments end have now changed, and it could end sooner than that—so the Home Secretary might be saying to the House that she does not have any plans to make the reform comprehensive in this Parliament. She has certainly not committed that she will. I think that that is a shame—it is an omission. However, in respect of the other missing element—the foreign influence registration scheme—I very much welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has been very precise and said that it will be introduced in Committee. I hope that that is at the beginning of the Committee stage, because the points that have been made by Members across the House about the importance of scrutinising such a provision are important. She will only get into trouble in the other place if she does not enable proper scrutiny in the Commons. We all want to get the foreign influence registration scheme right, and scrutiny can only help with that.
I hope that the Home Secretary introduces that swiftly, giving plenty time for proper scrutiny. The proposals that have been made for a Committee of the whole House might be a way of doing it, if she can persuade the business managers. I hear that she is very persuasive, so perhaps she can persuade them that that should be done. I do not think that she would find anyone who said that that was a bad idea. The Government have previously made a commitment that reform of the OSA 1989 would represent a key part of the Bill, so it is a bit of a mystery, difficult as it is, that it is missing. One might even say that it is a glaring omission. The Home Secretary could put it right by introducing that sooner.
Comments have been made about clause 23 and the amending of schedule 4 to the Serious Crime Act 2007, to disapply the offence of encouraging or assisting offences overseas when the activity in question is deemed necessary for the proper exercise of any function of the intelligence services or armed forces. The explanatory notes say—and I think that I heard the Home Secretary say something similar—that the provision will
“provide better protection to those discharging national security functions on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, to enable more effective joint working and to improve operational agility”.
I think that that is what the Home Secretary said, but this appears to be a wholesale carve-out of the intelligence services and the armed forces from any liability for assisting or encouraging crime overseas in any activities undertaken abroad. It is in effect an extensive granting of impunity against liability for criminal wrongdoing abroad for those discharging national security functions. It is extraordinarily broad in scope, particularly given the defence in legislation for those discharging national security functions abroad, which protects from liability in certain circumstances.
Section 50 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 protects those who act “reasonably”, and the agencies and armed forces can use those provisions to protect their staff in appropriate circumstances where their actions are reasonable. There is a further option in some cases to protect staff from liability by obtaining a ministerial authorisation under section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994.
The question—and it has not really been answered—is why has this wholesale carve-out been included? Why is it needed? What is inadequate about the current defences that has led the Government to do this? If an action does not meet a reasonableness test, I do not think it could possibly be described as necessary for the proper exercise of any function of an intelligence service or of the armed forces. Clause 23 at the moment appears to confer impunity without the need to consider whether an action is reasonable. When the Committee considered this matter, it did not think that it was justified, and the case has not been made to justify the inclusion of a blanket carve-out from liability—nor does that carve-out explain what has gone wrong with the existing reasonableness defence and the ministerial authorisation system, and why that is thought to be inadequate. We look forward to a much clearer explanation in Committee of why the Government think the provision is necessary, because in a worst-case scenario it could lead to less accountability for the agencies. At best, it seems unnecessary, given the existing safeguards.
On the legal aid provisions in part 3, I heard what was said by the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill, who is not in his place at the moment. He cautioned that the Government need to be careful about the terms in which they set out such provisions. My remarks are in view of my membership of that Committee and certainly not a reflection of my membership of the ISC, because such matters are not in its remit.
Civil legal aid has always been made available based on two main criteria: the type of case, including its likelihood of success; and the financial means of the applicant. It has never been dependent on the nature of any previous conviction of the applicant in a blanket ban, and certainly not whether they had been convicted of a particular type of offence in the past. I understand why policymakers and the Government might be concerned about those who have committed terrorist offences getting civil legal aid to sue, but I hope the Government will consider whether introducing this novel way of determining eligibility for civil legal aid is the right way forward.
I notice that provisions in clause 61 and schedule 10 will enable the court to make a freezing order on all or part of any damages that such a person recovers, ensuring that they are paid into the court, and enable an extension of the period for which awarded damages can be frozen. There is also provision in schedule 10 for a forfeiture of any such damages if it looks like they may be used to further some terrorist cause. I have no problem with that, but the novel restriction proposed on eligibility is difficult because it changes the whole way in which administration of civil legal aid is carried forward for a particular class of person. We must be careful about that. One can always think of other types of offenders who perhaps do not “deserve” to get civil legal aid. My concern is that introducing such a way of looking at eligibility may have a much broader implication that is not entirely good. That is despite there being hard cases, and I understand why policymakers are concerned.
When we get to Committee, I hope that those of use fortunate enough to consider the Bill further will be able to go into all its aspects in a lot more detail. I finish as I began by welcoming the Bill’s introduction; it just needs to be more comprehensive.
It is a pleasure to follow my fellow new member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Maria Eagle. I agree with what she said and what other members of the Committee have said. As she did, I will also try not to repeat absolutely everything that they said, although I confess that there may be some overlap.
I will speak about two things that are missing from the Bill but should be included, and two things that are in it but do not need to be. Let me begin with the things that are missing. As others have pointed out, the Bill proposes no reform of the Official Secrets Act 1989, as opposed to other Official Secrets Acts. I think that everyone who has spoken accepts that such reform is necessary, and the Government accept that it is essential. As we have heard, that Act deals with unauthorised disclosures of sensitive information and requires, for successful prosecution of offences, that it can be shown that damage has been done by the disclosure. The problem being, as my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis set out, that evidence of that damage is often impossible to present without causing more damage. That makes it counterproductive to prosecute such cases at all.
That problem is not solved by the Bill, but frankly it should be. It is not addressed by the new espionage offences in the Bill, which are targeted elsewhere and largely require intent to assist foreign intelligence services or that the action in question is carried out on behalf of a foreign power. Disclosures that are made with different motives, however misguided, will remain to be dealt with under the flawed regime in the 1989 Act. That regime will have to be reformed at some point, and comprehensively. That may well best be done with the creation of broad offences of disclosure and specific public interest defences. It seems to me that the attraction of that approach is twofold. First, as I suggested to the Home Secretary when she generously took my intervention, it is a recognition of current reality. Juries are already applying their own versions of public interest defences to the case they try without the benefit of clearly defined defences in law. Secondly, creating a straightforward offence of disclosure committed where relevant defences do not apply gives the prosecution less to prove, with less risk of further damaging disclosure by the state, and allows Parliament to define public interest defences as widely or as narrowly as we think appropriate. That has to be a better and more rational approach.
We should also consider further the Law Commission’s recommendation of a commissioner who would provide those in government or the intelligence agencies who are contemplating a disclosure of material to the public with another way to raise their concerns. The existence of such a route as an alternative may well make it harder to establish a public interest defence in court. I would argue that the Government should address the deficiencies of the 1989 Act while they have the legislative opportunity to do so in the Bill.
As others have said, another thing missing from the Bill is provision for a foreign influence registration scheme. I recognise and welcome the fact that the Government have said they intend to bring such a scheme forward by amendments to the Bill, but like others I hope they will do so soon, as the disadvantage of making substantial changes in amendments is that we have less time to consider them. It will be important that we consider the details of such a scheme and any unintended consequences of it. For example, the scheme needs to capture significant or substantial interventions on behalf of foreign powers, rather than those that are insignificant or incidental, and we need to consider carefully how a list of countries to which the scheme will apply will be managed and updated in practice. Of course, we cannot do any of that until we see precisely what the Government propose.
I mention in passing that I welcome the clauses on trade secrets, although I suspect, as do others, that the definitions involved will need tightening or clarifying, and I welcome the further clauses on sabotage and foreign influence. That brings me to the things that I think the Bill could do without.
The first, as the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood pointed out in detail, is clause 23, for which at the very least the Government will need to offer further justification. It amends schedule 4 to the Serious Crime Act 2007, which contains offences of assisting or encouraging the commission of a criminal offence abroad. As the hon. Lady said, the Bill will disapply those offences if the actions were necessary for the
“proper exercise of any function” of the security services or the armed forces. That is a sweeping exclusion from liability for criminal offences. It is not yet clear to me why that is necessary. A defence of acting reasonably is already included in the 2007 Act, and I do not immediately see what the difference is between an argument of acting reasonably and an argument of acting in the proper exercise of someone’s function, which is what clause 23 would add. As the hon. Lady mentioned, we already have the backstop protection of section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994. Ministers will need to explain, as the Bill progresses, why we need further legislative provision on that point.
Finally, I come to the clauses at the end of the Bill that deal with civil damages and legal aid for those with terrorist convictions. I also make it clear that I give my own views on this, not the views of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I have far fewer concerns about the reduction or non-payment of damages in cases where those damages may be used to fund terrorism; in those cases, decisions can be taken by a court, which in essence can already decide the size of award that would be just in all the circumstances. However, I am frankly worried about the Bill’s proposals on legal aid. This House has debated in the past, sometimes fiercely, which types of legal action should be eligible for legal aid and what level of wealth or poverty should be needed to get it, but I do not think we have ever before contemplated determining someone’s eligibility for civil legal aid based on previous criminal behaviour. Prisoners serving sentences, let alone those whose sentences have been served, do not lose all their rights in our society. It is the criminal justice system that exists to reflect our collective disapproval of and sanction for criminal behaviour. The civil justice system is not set up to do so—certainly not in perpetuity thereafter.
Is there any logic in leaving convicted terrorists eligible for criminal legal aid in relation to future allegations against them, as they will rightly remain if this Bill passes, but ineligible for civil legal aid? What that means for a formerly convicted terrorist is that legal aid will be available to them if the question before the court is whether they have again infringed the rights of others in a criminal way, but not if the question is whether others have infringed their rights, perhaps seriously. I am not sure that is right or sensible.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his recent honour, and I share some of his concerns about the widening of the eligibility around civil legal aid in these matters. Does he have any other mechanism by which he thinks this could be addressed in the Bill, to ensure that the Government’s concerns are taken into account?
As I say, I can understand the logic of the Government’s position when it comes to the restriction or even non-payment of damages in civil cases where the court believes that those damages may be used in a terrorist cause. That seems a sensible additional provision. It is more difficult where, outside a court—because of course decisions on legal aid are made not by judges, but by officials elsewhere—those judgments are to be made in the context that the Government propose. That seems to me a step too far, and another potential illogicality in the Government’s position is that there does not seem to me to be very much difference on a moral basis between terrorism offences and other serious criminal offences, such as child murder, serial rape or any number of others we might think of, to explain why only offences of terrorism would merit the removal of civil legal aid eligibility.
These measures need considerably more thought and justification. I am also not satisfied that they sit well in a Bill that contains largely necessary and sensible measures that are rightly likely, as we can see in this debate, to command significant cross-party support.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir Jeremy Wright, and I congratulate him on his recent inclusion in the Queen’s honours list.
This Bill has been long coming; we have been waiting for several years now. The Government have made some improvements in it, but overall it is disappointing. As my hon. Friend Maria Eagle said, it is not the comprehensive legislation we were promised and, as has already been mentioned, it does not include the reform of the Official Secrets Act 1989.
Dr Lewis, the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which I have the privilege of being a member of, said that the Committee has called for nearly the past 20 years for the reform of the 1989 Act. I am one of the two remaining members of the Committee who were on it when we considered our Russia report. We made very clear in the recommendations of the report, published in 2020, that there was an urgent need for reform of that Act, which we described as not being fit for purpose. More importantly, we took evidence from the agencies, which all said that the Act was in need of reform. We recommended that it should be reformed, and said that without any major reform the security services would continue to have their hands tied when trying to tackle the job that we give them.
It is surprising that reform of the 1989 Act has not been brought forward in this Bill, because it has not just been raised by the ISC and the security services; the Government themselves have repeatedly said that the Act needs to be changed and reformed. In a 2020 report, the Law Commission also concluded that the Act was “outdated” and in “urgent need of reform”. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood, I am at a loss as to why this reform is not in the Bill.
The 1911 to 1939 Official Secrets Acts are clearly repealed through the Bill, but if we do not change the 1989 Act, the current problems will persist. As has been mentioned, the requirement to prove damage from unauthorised disclosures is in most cases a real barrier to prosecution, and in some instances leads to more sensitive information having to be produced in court. That is a deterrent; it is a weakness that explains why the Act is not being used. Also, as I mentioned in an intervention on the Home Secretary, the maximum sentence under the 1989 Act is two years. In the Bill, we are introducing life sentences. I do not know what deterrent two years would be, even with the hurdles we have to get over, so I am at a real loss as to why these reforms have not been included in the Bill.
I am not clear from what the Home Secretary said when that reform will be brought forward. We all know how tight legislative time is. I would have thought that once the Government had a large Bill such as this one, they would want to do everything at once. Could it be that there is a lack of time? No, I do not think so, because the changes being put forward have been considered over many years. We need an explanation from the Government as to why this reform is not being done.
The right hon. Gentleman is making some very good points. I rather imagine that the damage that could be caused by an unlawful disclosure could include people losing their lives, and that one problem is that proving that damage could lead to yet further people losing their lives. I do not wish to tempt him where he must not go, but can he give those of us without access to classified information any indication of whether my worst imaginings are in any way accurate? If they are, it seems to me that a life sentence might be appropriate.
I would not want to go anywhere near what is in the hon. Gentleman’s imagination. All I can say is: yes, we are talking about information that will have an impact not only on our general security, but on the security of individual agents and others. That is why I support the Law Commission’s recommendations to introduce a public interest defence and to create an independent statutory commissioner to investigate wrongdoing or criminality where disclosure would otherwise constitute an offence under the 1989 Act.
The absence of reform means that if we pass the Bill as it is now, there will be nothing in it to guard against large, mass disclosures of sensitive information; we will still rely on the 1989 Act. Even if somebody indirectly helped foreign powers, I cannot see how we could bring them to book under this Bill. We should support the introduction of a public interest defence, because it would make it easier to bring prosecutions. I have heard some people say, “This would really give journalists and others an opportunity to throw secrets out there.” No, it would not; it would put the onus on them to argue in court that it is in the public interest that the information is disclosed. It would be welcome, as it would ensure that people thought about what they did.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Katharine Gun case is a good demonstration? The prosecution was dropped at the point of trial, probably because the Government could not predict how a jury would interpret her public interest defence rights without any codification.
The right hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. Without reform, the courts will define public interest anyway. I would sooner have this place define it than leave it to the courts or allow an ad hoc system to build up over time. I do not understand why the Bill does not take that opportunity, because it would help. Some journalists think that it would be a way of stymieing them, but I think it would clarify the position on the information that can be put in the public domain and would actually help to make that defence. I would rather have this House than a court of law setting those parameters.
The Law Commission made another recommendation that I think worthy of consideration, although we need to work out how it would work in practice:
“an independent commissioner to receive and investigate complaints of serious wrongdoing where disclosure of the matters referred to may otherwise constitute an offence under the Official Secrets Act 1989. That commissioner would also be responsible for determining appropriate disclosure of the results of that investigation.”
That would provide another valve in the pressure cooker of the system when people think that wrongdoing needs to be highlighted.
I would love to know why the Government have missed the opportunity to bring all these things forward in the Bill. I hope that as it passes we can insert some of them: that would not only strengthen the Bill, but give our security services the toolkit that they need.
The foreign influence registration scheme, which we called for in the 2020 Russia report and which is supported by the agencies, would make it unlawful to be an undeclared intelligence officer. I accept that there are issues with definition, but the consultation on the Bill described it as a key component of the new regime, yet for some reason it is not in the Bill. I hear the Home Secretary’s promises, but—call me old-fashioned—I think we should have it before us today to debate on Second Reading.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a valuable point. One of the problems that we have to get to grips with is the difference between a paid-up agent—the sort of old-school spy who worked for the KGB and others—and someone who works ostensibly for the United Front and is not technically a spy, but is cultivating a malign and covert form of influence. Arguably, they are both as damaging. This is a genuine question: how does one decide which of the two is more serious? Do we equate them, in this day and age?
I think transparency is the way to do it. That is why Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act, which was introduced very quickly in 2018, requires anyone engaging in lobbying or any kind of communications activity for the purpose of political influence on behalf of a foreign principal to be registered. The US scheme, which has been mentioned, was introduced in 1938 and came into force in 1939. If Australia and the US have such schemes, I am sure we can have one.
Personally, I think transparency is the best way forward. The approach that I understand the Government are looking at—having a list of countries on behalf of which people working have to register—is asking for trouble and will have to be updated over time. The Australian system and the US system are far better because they are all-encompassing.
I disagree slightly with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, although he is making a very good point. I think there is a very good argument for treating Oleg Deripaska differently from the New Zealand tourism board. For one, there should be a very light level of registration, because clearly the New Zealand tourism board is unlikely to be a front for anything other than New Zealand tourism, whereas Russian oligarchs, the Huaweis of this world and the United Front may hide all sorts of nasties behind them. If the Government have the courage to name China along with Russia, North Korea and Iraq, that is potentially an attractive option, is it not?
It is, but an active list that has to keep being updated is a problem. I would go broad first. If the New Zealand tourism board had to be caught by that—I am not sure we have anything to worry about from the New Zealand tourism board, apart from representing a fantastic country that is a great place for tourism—the important point is that it would be fair across the board. Again, I do not understand why that measure is not being brought forward today.
I will raise one last concern, which is about clause 23 and has been raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Kenilworth and Southam and also my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood. I see no purpose for the clause at all. I want to know from the Government what it is that is not already in legislation that they are trying to get at, or where the clause has come from, because it is certainly something I have never seen raised by the security services at the Intelligence and Security Committee. If we are to have this clause, I would also like to see some kind of oversight of it, whether that is the Investigatory Powers Commissioner or some other networks. Otherwise, the Bill is giving a large degree of latitude to individuals.
We should remember that this has been a hard-fought issue. The shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, raised the important point—let us be honest, it has happened over a period of time—that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner has been excellent in improving the oversight and robustness of the regulation around our security services, which are so important, and the confidence that people can have in that.
With that, I welcome that we have a Bill, but is it a Bill that will do what it says on the tin? I am not sure it will. It will need a lot of changing in Committee.
It is a pleasure to speak after Mr Jones, who in admirable brevity covered the gamut of the Bill. The House will be relieved to know that my speech on Second Reading will be even more concise than that. First, I welcome and support the thrust of this Bill, and I echo the comments made by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright and congratulate him warmly on his knighthood.
I want to develop a further point about what we do not see in this Bill. I know that is warming to a theme we have already heard from a number of contributors to this debate, but it is, I am afraid, one that we cannot get away from. This was an opportunity not just to recast the pre-war legislation from 1911 right through to the late ’30s, but for us to do something to a Bill that, when it became law in 1989, was addressing a world that was already vanishing. That Act came right at the end of the cold war, as the Berlin wall tumbled, and already it was somewhat behind its time. That has become even more apparent with the rise of the internet, the complete transmogrification of how disclosures can now be made and the myriad scenarios that now exist in regard to the unauthorised disclosure of classified material.
It is a matter of regret that the Government have not chosen to pursue reform of the Official Secrets Act 1989 in this Bill. I get the point that this is difficult, and the Home Secretary rightly made that point on a number of occasions in response to Members’ interventions at the beginning of the debate, but frankly, it is the job of this House to do difficult. We are here to do difficult. That is what our voters send us to do, and it is right on Second Reading to talk about what opportunities have potentially been missed.
I know that the scope of this Bill has been carefully crafted by the draftspeople. Knowing them as I do, I respect their work and they will have had—certainly in this case—clear instructions from policymakers. That might mean that I cannot table any amendment that I would seek to table, but I will continue to explore the matter, because it is too important an issue to leave for another occasion. The issue that I wish to deal with is the question of what to do with disclosures that are made in the public interest and in circumstances that clearly support the public interest.
Let me set out what I regard as a two-limbed test for any such defence to apply. Of course, this is not just an idea of mine; it is a carefully crafted set of proposals from the Law Commission that was published back in 2020, when I was still in the Government. I read the recommendations at the time and reread them in preparation for this debate. It is interesting to note that at the beginning of its chapter on the public interest defence, the Law Commission’s provisional conclusion before the publication of its final report was that there should not be a public interest defence but, as a result of the consultation it carried out, it changed its mind and came to the clear view that there was a clear case—a mandate, if you like—for the introduction of such a mechanism.
Currently, we have no mechanism that allows us as legislators or, indeed, us as a country to strike a reasonable balance between the importance of secrecy and the importance of accountability, while ensuring that those such as Julian Assange who dump data in a way that has no regard for the safety of operatives and other affected people are still subject to criminal sanction. In other words, this is not an attempt to try to open the door to create a free-for-all; it is an attempt to allow people to act carefully and in good conscience in a way that clearly serves the public interest.
Currently, in effect we delegate our responsibility as legislators to individual juries. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have spoken many times of my great belief in the jury system. I have probably addressed more juries than most Members in my work as a criminal barrister, both prosecuting and defending. I have huge faith in the jury system—it is a cornerstone of our liberty, and I mean that with every fibre of my being—but it is just plain wrong, in a society such as ours, for us, dealing as we do with the complexities of modern life, in effect to wash our hands of the process and leave it to individual juries. However carefully directed juries might be and however careful are the arguments put forward by counsel or advocates, it seems to me to be an abrogation of our responsibility.
To those who say that this idea is unprecedented, I say that that just is not the case. Plenty of examples of public interest defences exist in law. Indeed, the Law Commission set out a number of them—for example, section 40 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and the well-known Criminal Justice Act 1988, which deals with a person who has an item with a blade or a point in a public place. There are legal defences that place the onus in law on the defendant to prove that they were acting lawfully, so we are not asking for something revolutionary. We are not suggesting something that is wholly out of place; this idea is well known to the criminal law and can equally apply to disclosures made by public servants, journalists and people acting in the public interest. It is important to remember that we should not focus on the occupation, profession or rank of the individual—it is not about journalists; it is about material that might have that public interest value. We have to be really precise in our terminology.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making some excellent points—all of which I agree with so far—particularly about the ability for people to come forward and state that they have seen wrongdoing. So often, we rely on people who are inside an organisation, or others, to point out that something is going wrong. I totally agree that we should have a public interest defence. My right hon. and learned Friend will know that the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 provides such a defence; should that not be extended to a lot of other areas rather than apply just to those in employment?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who speaks with conviction and passion on this issue. She recently introduced a 10-minute rule Bill on whistleblowing and works very hard on that issue on behalf of many people who have been prejudiced as a result of the current position. She is right to indirectly advert to other legislation. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 again sets out a very reasonable precedent for this House to adopt.
In the place of an arbitrary, case-by-case, unpredictable situation that depends on myriad different facts, we can create a structured defence that sets out very clearly the circumstances in which the public interest can be defined and assessed by a tribunal of fact, including the way in which the disclosure was made, the subject matter of the disclosure, the gravity of the conduct exposed, and the harm caused. All those factors can help to determine what is the public interest. Looking at the manner of the disclosure, we have concepts such as good faith, whether the extent of disclosure was no more than reasonably necessary, whether the individual believes that the material—the documentation—is substantially true, and whether there was a question of personal gain. All these factors can be prayed in aid, and indeed brought into law, to exclude those who equate data dumping with serving the public interest. I do not believe that any Member of this House would condone such reckless and dangerous behaviour.
Joanna Cherry, who is not in her place, has been right, in her interventions, to remind us that this type of defence is not unique to the Five Eyes. Indeed, Canada, New Zealand and Australia already have a similar type of provision in their domestic law, so this would not be a question of creating prejudice or disadvantage to the United Kingdom in its important role as a member of the Five Eyes.
I have the advantage of having served in Government as a Secretary of State who, among other things, was responsible for warrantry; I can say in all candour that there is probably no more serious task for a Secretary of State to undertake than to assess the evidence before them when deciding whether to issue what can often be quite intrusive orders that have the effect of seriously infringing the normal civil liberties that we, as public citizens, all enjoy. But we do it because we know that there is a wider public interest to be served in making sure that the intelligence services, the police and other agencies that are entitled to make these applications are able to keep us safe. That is something that all of us who have held high office believe in, as do all Members of this House.
Therefore, it is with an element of regret that I say to my hon. Friend—my good friend—the Security Minister, who I know will steward this Bill through with his usual care and concern, that we have missed an opportunity here. If it is not to be in this Bill, then the introduction of a public interest defence must come sooner or later if we are to avoid the randomness of decisions made by jurors who are not legislators and to whom we have, in effect, delegated our authority in a way that does not do this issue any real justice whatsoever.
Before I start properly and give a general welcome to the Bill, I want to make one observation about how loosely some of it appears to be drafted; I will use clause 5, entitled “Unauthorised entry etc to a prohibited place”, to make the point. The clause involves a stand-alone offence and does not even need the foreign power condition to be met. It states:
“A person commits an offence if…the person…accesses” or “enters…a prohibited place” and
“that conduct is unauthorised, and…the person knows, or ought reasonably to know, that their conduct is unauthorised.”If I go for a walk on the beach in Monifieth in my constituency, I can walk straight along it and into a military firing range. If the red flag is not flying, I am authorised. If, however, I have got a mile in and someone puts the flag up, has my attendance become unauthorised?
The clause goes on to say:
“A person’s conduct is unauthorised if the person…does not have consent to engage in the conduct from a person” who is entitled to give it. If there was no sentry in the guard box when I approached and the flag was down and there was therefore no one to ask, would I have a defence?
I do not raise that point to engage in some silly whataboutery, but to make a rather serious point: either some of these clauses are so widely written that they will catch people they were never intended to catch, or they are so complex that any lawyer worth their salt will be able to find loopholes in order to get off the hook people whom these clauses should catch. I am sure that looking into that will be a job for the right hon. and hon. Members on the Bill Committee.
Mr Jones mentioned the ISC’s Russia report. I am fortunate to be the second Member who was involved in writing it, and it contained a number of important observations regarding the current state of UK national security legislation. The then Home Secretary told the Committee that, in relation to difficulties countering Russian hostile state activity,
“we don’t have all the powers”.
The Committee was told that it was not illegal to be a foreign agent in the UK. We were told by the director general of MI5 that we needed a new espionage Act because the powers in the OSA had become “dusty” and “ineffective”. As we have heard, the report made the case for a foreign agent or a foreign influence registration scheme, because we were also told:
“today it is not an offence in any sense to be a covert agent of the Russian Intelligence Services in the UK…unless you acquire damaging secrets and give them to your masters.”
I therefore welcome the Bill, which does address some of the issues that were raised, but before we get to some of the specifics of what is in it, there are the two omissions. The first is that there is no reform of the 1989 OSA, even though, as the Chair of the ISC has said, the Committee first called for that around 20 years ago. That means that the Bill is limited to dealing with the threat posed by hostile state actors and will not enhance defences against damaging unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information, even if that has the unintended consequence of assisting a foreign intelligence service. That would continue to fall under the 1989 OSA, which even the Home Secretary has admitted is not fit for purpose.
On an associated point, the Bill does not include a public interest defence—something suggested by the Law Commission—or the creation of the independent statutory commissioner to investigate allegations of serious wrongdoing where public disclosure would otherwise constitute an offence under the 1989 Act. The role of the commissioner may well end up being as important as, or potentially more important than, the public interest defence itself.
The second omission is the absence of the foreign influence registration scheme, which was a key ISC recommendation in the Russia report. Such a provision would make it an offence to be an undeclared foreign intelligence officer in the UK, would increase the transparency of foreign influence and would provide the legislative framework to prosecute, making the UK a more difficult and less permissive environment in which to operate. I share the opinion of all those who said that when the Government bring it forward, we should debate it on the Floor of the House—it is that important. I do not say that so that I can make another speech on the same subject, but because we need to get it absolutely right. If the definitions are wrong, and the authorities cannot prove the foreign power condition, we risk prosecutions falling by the wayside when, in any other circumstance, they would be completed.
I turn to a number of specific measures in the Bill. First, on the proposed new regime of state threats prevention and investigation measures, the ISC supports those in principle. Like TPIMs, they might be an important tool to disrupt an individual engaged in hostile state activity where a prosecution cannot be secured. But there are concerns: due to the fiendishly complex criminal offences in the Bill, the STPIMs could be used routinely, rather than as an exception or last resort, and therefore undermine some of the new measures in the Bill.
Clause 23 and the proposed amendment to the Serious Crime Act 2015, which were raised by my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald and Sir Jeremy Wright, effectively disapply the offences of encouraging or assisting offences overseas when the activity is deemed necessary for the proper exercise of any function of an intelligence service or armed forces. Given that there is already the defence of acting reasonably, that carve-out is simply not justified.
To speak personally—not on behalf of the ISC—I refer back to my previous point about there being no inclusion of a public interest defence for releasing unauthorised information. Not having that defence, while at the same time disapplying from the intelligence services a number of offences where an alternative defence already exists, might make the Bill appear to some people to be inconsistent, a little lopsided and perhaps weighted too much towards the state. There is broad consensus in the Chamber to carry the people with us and not do things that are unnecessarily provocative and that, frankly, would not make for such a good Bill anyway.
I turn to the European convention on human rights memorandum prepared by the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice for the Bill. On this, I am speaking personally. Paragraph 10 says:
“The purpose of the prohibited places offences is to provide protection to sites, particularly defence establishments…these offences do not seek to interfere with freedom of assembly and, as a general principle, in particular do not seek to restrict legitimate protest.”
I very much welcome that, but the next paragraph says:
“Protest activity at a prohibited place could potentially constitute a prohibited places offence. For example, a protest that sought to blockade a military airbase. However, the Government considers that any interference with Article 11 (freedom of assembly) would be justified in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, or for the prevention of disorder or crime. The clause 4 offence requires that the protesters know, or reasonably ought to know, that their protest activity is for a purpose that is prejudicial to the SOIOTUK”— safety or interests of the UK —
“so being rationally connected to those public interests.”
If the Government genuinely believe that any interference with article 11 on freedom of assembly would be justified in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, they will have a job to do to explain why that does not seek to restrict legitimate public protest. One can easily envisage how legislation like that could be directed at the Faslane peace camp or, historically, the Greenham Common peace camp. Not everyone will agree with those causes—they may not be everybody’s cup of tea—but we need to be extremely careful not to produce such an overbearing, overweening piece of legislation that it can be used not against enemies who are seeking to disrupt our national life, but against people who are, whether we agree with them or not, protesting legitimately.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very important and valuable point. The Greenham Common people, for instance, absolutely had the right to protest. However, it is also worth making the point that the Soviets were indirectly funding quite a number of naive fellow-traveller organisations. At some point, under this law, an illegality could be committed because the people doing the overt influencing, the covert paying for these front organisations, would be committing a criminal act, if not the, perhaps, naive or hopeful people who were on the frontline and unaware of how they were being funded. So it is quite complex.
It is complex, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, because all the discussion that we had earlier about foreign agent or foreign influence registration was precisely about capturing the crime of seeking to influence. We should not be seeking to criminalise legitimate protest. I do not think that that should be a contentious thing to say.
Those issues aside, we are at least seeing some progress in the modernisation of what was a very creaky and outdated system, but—as I am sure the Minister has gathered from all that has been said today—it is clearly work in progress. Let me repeat that the Government will have a bit of explaining to do if they are to convince the House that if this complex Bill becomes law, some of it will actually be enforceable.
Let me start by saying that, unusually, I agreed with every word that was said by Stewart Hosie. He will have to get over that in his own time! Indeed, I can make broadly the same comment about nearly all the Back-Bench speeches that have been made so far. There has been considerable consensus on both sides of the House.
There is no doubt that the Bill is needed, and it is probably overdue. However, like all national security legislation, it is written from the point of view of the enforcers. The enforcement agencies’ lawyers will have done most of the drafting, so it is no surprise that it leans towards the state, and no surprise that parts of it are drafted in vague terms. I can best exemplify that by referring to one of my own mistakes.
Clause 23 allows Ministers effectively to authorise criminal acts. I was one of the Ministers who took through the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which created the Intelligence and Security Committee. It also created a number of rights. Section 7, which was known as the “007 clause”, conferred the right, in effect, to commit crimes on behalf of the state.
I went to see the then head of MI6, and I said to him, “Why do you need this? You do not even kill people any more.” His response was “That’s because you do not ask us to, Minister.” I resisted the temptation to pursue what I assume was a joke. Nevertheless, the presumption at the time was that the legislation would be used for bugging, burglary and blackmail and little else, as those are the three crimes typically used by the agencies. In practice, within a decade or so it was being used to excuse rendition, and subsequently, of course, torture and all the things that followed from that. I am not sure what the limits of its actions are today, but that demonstrates clearly to me that we have to be very precise indeed about what the House is authorising Ministers to do within the limits of the law.
What is more, this carve-out—which, as I have said, could be used for purposes that we are not considering today—could end up being extremely damaging to us. After all, we criticise nations from Russia to Turkey for the things that are done there, including the assassinations of journalists, presumably authorised by Ministers within those Governments under their legal systems, and here we are creating the equivalent within our own legal system. It is not too hard to see how that could be turned against us in propaganda terms.
This is not the first time that we have done that in recent years. Just a couple of years ago, with the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, we had a proposal that would have exonerated British soldiers who had committed crimes abroad, including murder and torture and war crimes. I proposed an amendment to the Bill, which did not get very far until Lord Robertson, the ex-head of NATO, and six Chiefs of the Defence Staff signed up to it in the Lords whereupon the Government had to pay attention. The ICC said that if we did this, it would prosecute. That is the other thing that we need to bear in mind with this—we are not necessarily the last port of call in judging what can and cannot be prosecuted.
My view on clause 23 is that we should be very careful about defining exactly what it is that we are attempting to permit. We should not leave any doubt whatever, or we will find that it will both fail and do us harm, let alone the moral breach that we will be committing.
My second issue relates to the matter raised by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall QC, whose statements are more authoritative than those of anyone else because the Bill is effectively modelled on legislation that he reviews. He says that it is unclear why we need an additional regime for the forfeiture and freezing of assets intended for use in terrorism, when such a regime already exists in law. His concern about it is that the new regime would use a lower threshold, requiring only a “real risk” that the funds would be used in terrorism, rather than that they were “intended to be used” for those purposes, He says that that “goes further than necessary”. Nobody in this country knows better where the appropriate line should be drawn than him, and we should be very careful to pay attention to what he says.
Jonathan Hall also questioned, as did my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright, the need for “symbolic” restrictions on access to legal aid based on something other than reducing the risk of terrorism. It would run the risk of the farcical situation where someone convicted of terrorism-related offences perhaps 20 years ago would be unable to rely on civil legal aid in seeking an injunction against a domestic abuser. I am quite sure in my mind that that is not what the Minister or the Government intend, but we should make it very plain that that is not the case, and amend it accordingly.
I agree with everything said by virtually everybody who spoke on the need for an update of the Official Secrets Act 1989. I am not remotely surprised that the Government are hesitant about that; there is a huge dammed up resistance to changes because they have to get it right first time.
I am talking about the oversight of the DSF—Director Special Forces. Arguably, at the moment, it does not fall within the remit of the Ministry of Defence. It does not fall within the remit of the Foreign Affairs Committee and it does not fall within the remit of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Does my right hon. Friend think that it needs oversight, and how would he provide oversight of that rarified world that exists between the agencies and traditional defence?
My hon. Friend is tempting me into an area in which I will lose all my friends, as he well knows. My off-the-cuff response—and it is just an off-the-cuff response—is that it is an appropriate area for oversight by the ISC, not by the Defence Committee, simply because of the confidentiality and classification elements that apply.
Let me return to the question of the Official Secrets Act 1989. I agree with everything that has been said so far. I agree that we should look very closely at the Law Commission proposals, because we need certainty. What we have at the moment is an interpretation of the law by juries—whether it is the Ponting case, the Katharine Gun case, where we did not even get to the point because the Government ran away from the case on the first day of trial, or the Derek Pasquill case. In each case, we had an interpretation of the law on a commonsensical basis by juries. Thank heavens for that, frankly, because they have more sense, many times, than the Government have in these areas, but we need predictability on both sides. We need officials to know that if something is done that they think is against the public interest, they can be reasonably confident that the provision will be carried out. That, if it operates properly, will improve the public service. On the other side, the Government should also have a right to know what is coming in that area.
I will make one or two other small points. On the foreign power conditions in the Bill, Reprieve, Privacy International, Transparency International and other excellent organisations that do very good work have received some funding from other nations’ Governments. It does not seem to be the intention that the Bill would have them fall foul of this law, but that might be the effect, so we have to be very clear about how that works. Perfectly legitimate organisations could be left committing an offence, under this area of the Bill, if they use leaked information—which may not even be classified—to challenge Government policy. That requires a closer look.
My right hon. Friend is covering clauses 24 onwards, on the meaning of foreign power and influence thereon. There have been instances involving Members of the House during the past few turbulent years, when we had negotiations during the European Union; I did not agree with where they were going with their negotiations with the other side, outside Government channels, but I still believed that they had the right to do so. I am a little concerned that the Bill might capture that type of behaviour. Has he considered that? I would be interested to know Front Benchers’ thoughts on that as well.
My hon. Friend makes a point about something from which I have scars. I had to go and negotiate while I was being undermined by Opposition Members. I agree, of course, that that is their right and power. Indeed, it is no great secret that I recommended the current Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, for a Privy Counsellorship so that he could be properly briefed—not so that he could undermine me, but so that he could do his job properly. Obviously, democracy has rough edges and we must respect that in the Bill, as we do elsewhere.
My last point relates to the foreign influence registration scheme, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam spoke about. At present, that is not in the Bill. The Government have assured us that it will be introduced at a later stage. I hope that it is introduced early enough for proper and adequate scrutiny. This will not be easy to get right, partly because of the comments that my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay made. It is clearly a very different issue if someone is working on behalf of China, and we should not paint them with the same brush as those who are working for—my notes say “reliable allies like France”, but I should say “allies like France”. The simple truth is that we have to get this absolutely right.
I welcome the Bill, which, overall, is overdue. However, I make this point to the Front-Bench team: I hope that the Government will allow plenty of time—I will not say “sufficient time”—for the consideration of those elements. The Government have not brought some things to the House because they are not ready yet. That means that they have to respect the House by giving the Bill a large amount of time on Report, so that we can debate carefully every single issue that I raised.
Thank you for allowing me to speak on the Bill, Mr Deputy Speaker. I very much welcome the Bill as a necessary update to our national security. As others have said, we have focused this weekend on the Queen’s jubilee, and among the most glaring changes that Her Majesty has seen over her lifetime of service are the technological advancements. With those has come a need for many of our laws to be updated to reflect changes in society. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions, and particularly the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Dr Lewis; I wish him well in his role and thank him for his wisdom as he takes that forward.
I very much welcome the fact that the Bill will apply to all the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as its aims; it is necessary and timely. The repeal of OSA 1911 and OSA 1939 and their replacement with new legislation to remove the requirement to show that an unauthorised disclosure causes damage in order to bring a prosecution for disclosure offences under OSA 1989 is absolutely necessary, as we understand that information espionage can take time to make it into dangerous hands, so we must have power to take action before that.
The Secretary of State referred to the fact that consideration had been given to reforming the Treason Act, and that it had been decided not to follow that path. How much I wish that Treason Act reform was part of this Bill, so that all those involved in a 33-year terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland, trying to overthrow a Government, would be subject to that measure, which would be retrospective. Those IRA people would be scurrying into the holes that they came out of to try to get away from that Act. That is not in the Bill, but I hope that at some time the Secretary of State will introduce it—I certainly look forward to that.
I further welcome the increase in the maximum sentence for unauthorised disclosures to reflect the fact that they can cause far more serious damage than when the offence was first introduced—there are not necessarily distinctions in severity between espionage and the most dangerous disclosures. I further welcome the territorial extent of the unauthorised disclosure offences. I am by no means whatsoever a technical whizz—a text message is as far as it goes—but I am well aware that I am in the minority. The world is at the fingertips of almost everybody, but that does not mean that it should be at the fingertips of those who wish to use their skills for evil. As a nation, we must have the legislative ability to deal with those who seek to steal information and use it against us. This is about protecting our citizens and those who live in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I am also pleased with the foreign interference offences, which will ensure that our approach and legal powers are clear, and will demonstrate our desire and ability to deal appropriately with foreign interference as necessary. The powers to arrest and detain may raise some red flags on due process, but I believe they should be used in very specific cases, as outlined. Paragraph 10 of schedule 2, for instance, permits a police officer of at least the rank of superintendent to give any constable authority, but to give that authority the officer must have
“reasonable grounds for believing that the case is one of great emergency and that immediate action is necessary.”
Where such authority is given, the Secretary of State must be notified
“as soon as is reasonably practicable”.
In the end, this is good news and the right way to go. This seems right and proper to me, and we must ensure that the police are given the power to act when needed—not simply at will—so I welcome this part of the Government’s Bill, as introduced by the Government.
I have listened carefully to the contributions to the debate, certainly all of those which were backed with thought, experience and the questions that need to be asked. Perhaps they show that some changes need to be made to the Bill. I have listened carefully to the comments made by Members across the Chamber who have taken on board the fact that the principle of the Bill is what is called for in this modern age. At this stage, I am happy to lend my support—and the support of my party—to the Government to ensure that we update and upgrade our legislation to deal with changing times. With that, I very much look forward to seeing the Bill become law, and wish Ministers and all those who will participate in Committee all the best as they move forward to try to find a way to guarantee the safety of all those who live in the great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I will not take up too much of the House’s time, but I am delighted to see the Minister in the Chamber. I hope to make some suggestions and give some opinions on some things to do with the Bill.
It strikes me that there seems to be a debate about whether we go deep or go broad. That is a very important part of the debate. For me, anything that does not capture a considerable amount of information about Confucius Institutes, about the universities, and about what law firms, lobbyists and former civil servants are doing in relation to oligarchs, Huawei and Chinese and Russian interests, will not be of service to this country. I will focus very much on the foreign lobbying aspect, because it is something that I have written about and discussed with the Minister.
First, we know that we need to improve lobbying laws substantially, and the endless, tedious and avoidable scandals over that should give us pause for thought. Secondly, we know there is a specific problem with foreign lobbying, and thirdly, in this era of blurred and confused lines between espionage, covert influence and lobbying, to ensure the health of our democracy we need a stronger and more transparent system. Arguably the Soviets always played that game from the 1930s onwards, when they started using friendship groups, and they really geared things up in the 1950s and 1960s through peace societies, churches and different types of organisations. The KGB worked through front organisations, much as the Chinese communists now work, sadly, through the United Front.
We are really playing catch-up on this. Our closest ally, the United States, has had the Foreign Agents Registration Act since 1938. Why? Because it identified, rightly, that it had a problem with covert Nazi influence trying to corrupt and influence its politics in the run-up to world war two. I am very glad the US had that law, because things might have been different if it had not. In 2018, the Australians introduced the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act, largely in response to covert Chinese influence—the Australians were careful not to pin it to one country, but there is no doubt why it is there—and I congratulate Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on it.
In the US alone we know, because foreign actors have to declare this stuff, that foreign agents spent more than $2 billion between 2016 and 2020 to influence foreign policy making. The only reason we find out about some of the worst aspects of what happens here is that the big US papers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post report on influence operations happening here if there is a US angle. We know about Oleg Deripaska’s major operation to try to get part of En+ off sanctions and various Members of Parliament—unnamed, obviously—who were helping, but we only know about that because of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
For me, it is a source of shame that we have to find out about what is happening in our democracy, in the nooks and crannies and dark corners of influence peddling, because of another nation’s laws. We need a good FARA, our own foreign lobbying law—a FOLO or a FARA, whatever people want to call it.
What else do I want to say? It seems to me—
If I may be helpful while my hon. Friend is finding his notes, he makes a compelling case—a case that was made prior to this Bill by the Government and by those who recommended this legislation: the ISC, the Law Commission and others. The issue is how we construct this, how it is included in legislation and in the Government’s proposals, and at what stage we will know more about that. That was rehearsed earlier in the debate, but it is important that we have real scrutiny of that process.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend interrupted me just as I was fiddling around with my paperwork. There are two critical points that I will come to very shortly, looking at five potential options for the foreign lobbying and foreign influence element of the Bill, and at whether we go for a light touch, a moderate touch or a deep touch.
We know the situation with the Russians has changed dramatically, although it may change back in future years, but China is now, if anything, a more important case than Russia, because we know that the Chinese Communist party uses state, non-state and quasi-state actors in the same way that Putin’s Kremlin did. The one thing I see immediately on looking at the Bill—maybe the Minister can guide me here—is a lot of references to state actors. Is Huawei a state actor? We have had Ministers claim in this House that Huawei is “a private company”. In a communist, one-party state, a major company that is a front for Chinese technology is not a private company.
What are the Government going to do about the Oleg Deripaskas and the Abramoviches of this world? I know the world has moved on somewhat, but in theory, what are they going to do about rich players who are beholden to dictators in different countries? What are we going to do about the Saudis? They do an awful lot of influencing and influence operations in this country and a great deal of lobbying. They are our allies, but that is not a democracy. To what extent do countries such as Saudi Arabia need to be more transparent about the business they do here?
Both the Kremlin and the Chinese Communist party raise issues not only about politicians—who, for me, are not the most important aspect, and I am not just saying that because I am in Parliament—but about law firms, which are critically important. This is about the power of the finance houses and former civil servants who have expert experience of policy making. It is about the special advisers who work closely with senior Ministers and know how a Secretary of State’s mind operates and how they think.
Those things are, in many ways, frankly more valuable than how a Back-Bench MP or a member of an all-party parliamentary group is going to vote. We need a foreign influence element to the Bill, and my strong recommendation to the Minister is that we need something that is flexible and captures the idea that influence nowadays is not just peddled through people in this House. In many ways, many of the most important peddlers of influence are not Members of Parliament, but people in the civil service, or ex-civil servants, ex-military or ex-politicians—people in that sort of world.
If we are to have a foreign lobbying element, what should we look at? I recommend that we create laws to compel individuals and entities who lobby in the UK for hostile states and their proxies to record that on a national register. The Government accept that. The problem is that previous laws have limited lobbying to “consultant lobbyists”, which is not adequate to the task. We know that hostile states make use of non-lobbyist individuals and entities—those backed by or linked with a state, active in the spheres of academia, economics, culture and the media. Registrable lobbyists should be anyone who influences Government decisions or national policy, and that will therefore include PR consultants, research firms, reputation managers, law firms when they offer additional services, and banks. Law firms in particular have been at the corrosive heart of some of the most corrupting elements of how individual oligarchs have tended to use and manipulate power in the west.
I would also create laws to force foreign Governments to disclose when they spend money on political activity in the UK; that ban foreign Governments or their proxies from providing political, financial and other support during election periods; and that compel foreign Governments and their proxies to label and disclose material and campaigns undertaken in the UK, especially those online. I would make those laws enforceable by criminal penalty. The Government are approaching some of those positions, which is great, but it is the breadth that is important.
On the next element, there are three options. One is a weak regime that treats everyone the same, so the Saudis the same as a Russian oligarch, or Huawei, or the New Zealand tourist board—sorry to bring up that example again. Or the Government could say that they will have a two-tier system with a very light registration for the New Zealand tourist board or the Norwegian salmon producers association, but a much higher degree of form filling and detail giving for Chinese, Iranian and Russian organisations and the potential influencing that they are doing, especially with the United Front. Or do we just have a very deep set of requests for everybody, which would probably result in a lot of unnecessary form-filling? The Goldilocks solution for me is level two, with a light layer of registration for all organisations that are working on behalf of foreign states or their entities, but a much deeper level for named countries, individuals or institutions, including Confucius Institutes.
We should also have a level that understands the importance of making sure that we know what is going on in our universities. When we have PhD students here from China whose sole purpose is to steal as much intellectual property as possible, that is not a good thing. We should at least acknowledge that that is going on.
On that very point, my hon. Friend might want to turn his attention to the Confucius Institutes that are active in several of our universities and may be doing precisely what he says. I will say no more than that, but I regard them—as I hope he does—with a considerable degree of suspicion.
As ever, my right hon. Friend stays one step ahead of me. We know that the socialist paradise of Sweden has banned the Confucius Institutes, which is a potentially attractive route forward. As several hon. Members have said, transparency is critical.
Just to finish the point about a two-tier system, while we need a light regulatory touch for most foreign entities in this country, the critical element is when would the Government have listed China, for example, for a much deeper level of requirement about proxies and registering interests—state interests and Huawei interests as well? Would they have done it in 2012, before the visit of President Xi? Probably not. Would they have done it in 2016? Would they be under pressure not to use these laws? We need a Government willing to use these laws and willing not to have an entirely laissez-faire system—a Government who understand that, in this day and age, defending our institutions, our democracy and people in this country from covert malign influence is absolutely critical, and that we need to take an approach that is deep in some areas but also broad and that captures all those involved.
I see that my hon. Friend is about to finish, and I have just got in in time. I understand his desire for both breadth and depth, and he has very clearly identified various actors that would fall within the definition that he desires. However, there are big financial institutions that will at times be guns for hire for countries or institutions abroad, and for such a period their work may be contrary to what this country might like. I think that would be too broad, so what would his interpretation of that be? I am thinking of the big financial institution that perhaps assisted Greece into the euro at the time. It was perhaps a policy that was not great for the UK, but we would not say that it was normally a hostile institution.
No, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is where the element of judgment comes in. By the way, I thank him for interrupting me. I look forward to the day when colleagues will spot my perorations; we have not quite got to that yet. That is where the judgment of Ministers comes in handy, and I shall leave it at that.
As I think the Minister will have spotted, there is wide consensus across the House about many of the provisions in this Bill that is matched only by a level of frustration that the Bill has been an awful long time coming. We have been debating the risks of hybrid warfare, from Russia and from others, in this Chamber for at least four or five years. Therefore, having waited so long and having debated so much, I think we are within our rights to have expected a rather more substantial package from the Government.
In the spirit of consensus, which I see is running large in the House today, I hope that we will be able to add substantially to the provisions in the Bill. I do not want to criticise sins of commission today, but I do want to criticise three sins of omissions: in particular, the lack of security in defence for data; the lack of security for our democracy; and the lack of security for those defenders of freedom and those people such as brave journalists who are prepared to name and, where necessary, shame foreign influencers who are at large in our country.
Let me start with data, because it is impossible to talk about espionage in this day and age without talking about information and intelligence, and therefore about data and the channels that move that data between our country and foreign players—the companies that are on the cutting edge of the technology revolution. I am afraid I think there is a very real risk that this Bill will be out of date by the time our sovereign inks her signature on the parchment.
What is well understood by the Americans and the Chinese, and I have to say by our intelligence services, is that artificial intelligence—not simply intelligence, but artificial intelligence—will be the key to the future of warfare and conflict between states. That is why both China and the United States are seeking to be the world leaders in artificial intelligence by 2030. It is also why the head of MI6 warned last year about the risk of countries around the world falling into data traps, because there is very real alarm that the huge datasets necessary to train the algorithms that power artificial intelligence are being exfiltrated from around the world. These are the datasets that train the algorithms that will be absolutely critical in co-ordinating drone swarms, running global surveillance systems, and creating mass information—through the mountains of contents that it is possible to create with artificial intelligence—to fire at the west a fire hose of falsehood to confuse us or, still worse, to divide us.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a compelling point, because there are two implications of what he is describing: the problem of scale and the problem of methodology. The scale of what he is describing will be hard for any single nation to cope with. On methodology, it is hard to conduct covert operations as we have historically against that backdrop.
The right hon. Member puts his finger on precisely the lesson that we should draw from allies such as the United States. Today, the United States has a battery of eight types of controls and measures that are regulating and controlling the export of—or, frankly, efforts to steal—technology and data to countries such as China.
The Bill says that it will be an offence to engage in
“conduct…that it is reasonably possible may…assist a foreign intelligence service”.
I am afraid that negligence must be part of that conduct. Our American allies now have: provisions for delisting Chinese firms, which they have applied to companies such as Sina Weibo; an investment prohibition list that has now hit 59 Chinese firms; a ban on share trading; export bans and restrictions that have added scores of Chinese entities to the unverified list, which therefore have tougher rules on receiving shipments from US exporters; an export ban; provisions for revocation of trading licences; data controls, which first President Trump and then President Biden ordered; and, of course, targeted sanctions. My question for the Minister is: where is the similar framework for the United Kingdom? We are now in grave jeopardy of a control gap emerging between the United Kingdom and our closest ally.
When I tabled parliamentary questions on those eight different measures to the Government asking where our similar framework was, I got a lot of waffle from the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Paul Scully. I then asked the Government what controls are in place on nine of the 1,100 key companies now controlled in some way, shape or form in the United States: those such as Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, Hytera and Alibaba through to China Unicom—I will not go through them all. Despite our adding China to the UK arms embargo list earlier this year, the only one company that the Minister could name that is subject to UK controls was Huawei.
I am afraid that we are now at risk of a control gap, and we are still behaving as if we believe in free movement of weapons-grade intelligence. That is presumably why individuals such as Clive Woodley, funded by the UK university system and the Ministry of Defence, are still wandering around organising conferences on weapons in China. Given the poor job that the National Security Council did on co-ordinating complex operations such as the evacuation from Afghanistan, I am seriously concerned that the Government lack the capacity to co-ordinate the Treasury, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for International Trade, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the intelligence agencies in controlling what needs to be controlled. I would like to see a duty on Ministers to report to the House on companies of concern, particularly those operating from countries where we have arms embargoes, with clear measures to control them.
I leave that to the judgment of the House in the debates that we have, but we must make the framework coherent, because, frankly, it is not coherent today.
My second point is about the defence of our democracy. The Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Dr Lewis, was absolutely right to flag the fact that we have needed a defence of the integrity of our democracy at the core of our strategy for a long time. I called for it back in 2018, but right now, neither the Electoral Commission, nor the Advertising Standards Authority nor Ofcom has the power to regulate adverts placed on social media. People can therefore get away with ads on social media that could never be placed on television. Facebook, as all of us know, is like a wild west. There are also no constraints on what parties can spend in between elections, which allows people to surge investments in politics between elections, and there is no control to stop unlimited donations to political parties from abroad if they are laundered through the bank account of a British citizen.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the GRU and the Internet Research Agency placing adverts on Facebook and other social media sites for pro-gun and anti-gun rallies, and for anti-Muslim and pro-Muslim rallies, taking place in the same towns on the same day in the United States, designed specifically to incite violence and bloodshed?
Perhaps no one in this House has done more than the hon. Gentleman to expose the hybrid warfare and divide-and-rule tactics of Russia, but we are wide open to them, not least because a person can give unlimited amounts of money to political parties if they are laundered through the bank account of a UK citizen. Call it, if you will, the Sheleg manoeuvre.
Ehud Sheleg, no doubt an honourable man, has given £3.3 million to the Conservative party, yet The New York Times revealed that a suspicious activity report from Barclays flagged that £2.5 million moved to Mr Sheleg from his father-in-law in Russia wound up in a UK account that then shifted £450,000 to the Conservative party. The New York Times reported that Barclays flagged the SAR with this statement:
“We are able to trace a clear line back from this donation to its ultimate source… Kopytov”— the father-in-law—
“can be stated with considerable certainty to have been the true source of the donation.”
Along with a number of other hon. and right hon. Members, I flagged this to the National Crime Agency. A day or two later—the NCA did not spend an awful lot of time looking at this—a letter came back from Steve Rodhouse, its director of operations, which stated:
“As you will be aware, provided a donation comes from a permissible source, and was the decision of the donor themselves, it is permitted under PPERA. This remains the case even if the donor’s funds derived from a gift from an overseas individual.”
That is utter nonsense. It is completely ridiculous. No doubt Mr Sheleg is an honourable man, but the Sheleg manoeuvre could be exploited by all kinds of bad actors.
Finally, we in this House have defended a number of extremely brave journalists and former colleagues, such as Catherine Belton, Tom Burgis, Arabella Pike and Charlotte Leslie, who have all risked everything to raise a red flag about bad actors and threats of foreign influence, yet their thanks have been to be hounded in court by oligarchs who seek to rack up hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal bills to deter such people from telling the truth. If we are to defend whistleblowers, and I am pleased to see that provision in the Bill, surely this is the moment for the House to unite in refining, if not legislating for, a defence for people who make arguments that need such a defence.
We are in new times, and the return of great power competition is upon us. We need new defences, and this Bill is a chance to make good some of those defences now.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a wonderful birthday present to rise to support the Government on this important and interesting legislation, which I am grateful to have had the opportunity to study and read around. In fact, it has been interesting to discover just how much one can learn about the work of the security and intelligence services.
Before going any further, it is worth taking this opportunity to say that, as a Member of this House and, indeed, as a former member of the armed forces, I have always believed our default position should be to stand with the police, the armed forces and the defence and intelligence services, which seek to secure our freedoms, to keep us safe and to work in the public interest.
When thinking of where I might find words to praise them, I went back to the 2016 report from the Intelligence Services Commissioner, the right hon. Sir Mark Waller. It was his final report before the institution was superseded, and he said in the executive summary, on page 5:
“I would like to record that the United Kingdom is extremely fortunate with its intelligence agencies. They combine an extremely high level of operational competence with a collaborative approach and a respect for the law which makes them trusted and respected internationally.
The UK Intelligence Community’s attitude to ethics in general, and legal compliance specifically, is impressive and reassuring. While there is some legal debate about certain powers, I have never seen any evidence that the agencies institutionally would knowingly break the law… In terms of my inspections, I have found that the substantial compliance teams in each organisation and the relevant departments of state think deeply about the application of executive power and the intrusion into the privacy of its citizens. Everyone I inspect approaches the process in an open manner. Indeed, rather than hiding problems, they are often proactive in raising the most difficult issues with me.”
I was very reassured to read those words from the former Intelligence Services Commissioner, who was responsible in Government for supervising the intelligence services. Indeed, I think all of Government could learn from that culture of compliance.
The point that I am trying to make is this. In this Bill, once again we are handing very significant powers to agents of the state that they will then use with some degree of discretion; I will come to specific examples later. That is why it is vital that from the top to the bottom, the entirety of Government is led with a spirit of compliance with the law—a compliance culture. The document—admittedly, a 2016 report—goes on to talk about some of the risks inherent in the security and intelligence services, and some of the safeguards that are in place. It is all very reassuring. Indeed, the later Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s most recent report also includes a number of important points about safeguards.
Let me turn to some specific points. We have already had a pretty good canter around clause 23, but as my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright said, it is worth pointing out that it is a widely drawn clause. We all have to be sensible and mature in recognising that our work overseas through the Secret Intelligence Service is bound to seek to procure just some of those things in the explanatory notes that we are making criminal offences in the UK. We have to be realistic that when we are furthering our own interests—sometimes against hostile powers—we need to give people this waiver in relation to seeking to procure offences overseas.
Of course, the security services must be able to encourage and assist offences overseas, particularly when it is deemed necessary, but deemed necessary by whom? The particular point I want to make about clause 23 that has not been made is that when one goes through the commissioner’s various reports, one can see there is a fairly widespread use of so-called section 7 thematic warrants, within which SIS in particular can operate with a fairly wide degree of discretion and with internal controls on what is done. That means that a person like me, who is always instinctively wary of powers given to the state, must trust that institutions not open to all of us to scrutinise have processes in place; and, as I have said, we can be reassured that they do have very robust and important processes, and a great culture of compliance with the law.
But what would happen if, God forbid, one day this country was led by somebody at the very top who did not have a strict culture of compliance with the law? I think I have made it clear how I voted tonight. And what if, after a period, that culture of non-compliance in No. 10 Downing Street were to permeate throughout the whole apparatus of the state? What if the machinery of government was changed so that supervision of the intelligence and security services was moved within No. 10—just for example, since that is proposed; or has it happened? It is certainly on the cards.
I am extremely wary of a clause drawn this widely in the context of thematic warrants. I should also say, with great respect to SIS, that there is within the commissioners’ documents—the most recent and the 2016 document—evidence of, shall we say, sparse record-keeping, which has not always served the institution well, particularly in relation to rendition, to which I will come. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend the Security Minister will not mind my saying that there are extremely good reasons for drawing clause 23 a bit tighter, including defending the integrity of the institutions, and our brave men and women within them who defend us. There seems to be a general consensus that that should be done, so I hope that he will look carefully at clause 23.
The next point I wanted to make was about the 1989 Act, but we have cantered around that, so I refer to my earlier remarks; the issue of damage needs to be dealt with.
Let me turn to STPIMs. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I remember when TPIMs were very controversial in this place. I think the principle involved in TPIMs and STPIMs is now water under the bridge: the point has been conceded and we have all moved on. I do not like fuzzy justice—to me, the idea of restraining somebody’s liberties without a conviction undermines the rule of law as it is generally understood—but okay, we have plenty of safeguards, so now the devil is in the detail. It will require minds more learned than mine to propose amendments to STPIMs to ensure adequate safeguards.
The reason why I am so interested in the Bill relates to the general assault on liberty that we saw after 9/11. As a former member of the armed forces, I thought that there were certain ultimate values that we were willing to fight and die to defend, and that we were compromising those values by giving the state the power to restrict liberty without a conviction—that is one of the reasons I came here. Well, I have to admit that I have lost that argument. It is water under the bridge, but it is a pretty important argument to have lost, so as part of reversing that assault on liberty post 9/11, I look to the Government and learned minds outside to ensure adequate safeguards in relation to STPIMs.
I understand that my hon. Friend is talking about STPIMs, but more generally, does he see the Bill as beneficial to liberty overall? I do, because by doing something about covert and malign lobbying, we will increase transparency and integrity in our decision-making apparatus in this country. Does he share that opinion?
My hon. Friend makes his point extremely well, but I hope he will not mind if I say that I do not want to be diverted to that subject, not least because I want to foreshorten my speech a little.
My other point about STPIMs relates to the introduction of polygraphs, which is an area that I have not had the chance to research as much as I might have liked. Can my right hon. Friend the Minister let us know whether this is the first time that we have legislated for their use or whether a new principle is being introduced into our law? Polygraphs are not perfectly reliable. I have read the explanatory notes, but I wonder whether their introduction is an innovation.
I am really concerned about the development of certain trends in the rule of law, as evidenced in arguments that I have made. As a result of the Online Safety Bill, we now have the concept that some speech is legal but harmful, which seems to me a fuzzy concept of what is and is not allowed in law. That is not where I want our country to be, but I accept that I am not a learned mind in this place—I am only a humble aerospace and software engineer, and an MSc in computer science does not always cover such difficult matters of fuzzy logic.
The main issue that I want to address is about extraordinary rendition. Schedule 3, “Detention under section 21”, in part 1, “Treatment of persons detained under section 21”, under the cross-heading “Place of detention”, states:
“(1) The Secretary of State may designate places at which persons may be detained under section 21.
(2) In this Schedule a reference to a police station includes a reference to any place which the Secretary of State has designated under sub-paragraph (1) as a place where a person may be detained under section 21.”
Putting it in plain English, the Secretary of State may make provision to detain people other than at police stations, and constables must take those people to those places. Colloquially, when we were looking at extraordinary rendition, those places were known as secret prisons. I would very much like to know from the Minister why we need to nominate other places to detain people. Will they be detained to the same standard as in a police station? I would very much expect so. What are these places? I am aware of some of them, but where are they, and for what reason can people not be detained at a police station?
That point brings me on to extraordinary rendition. Look at what happened to us after 9/11—the wars we waged, the principles of civilisation and freedom that had kept us free and given us something to be proud of and to fight for, and which we undermined. “The Principles relating to the detention and interviewing of detainees overseas and the passing and receipt of intelligence relating to detainees”—a Government document that is freely available—makes it absolutely clear that the
“UK Government does not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone unlawful killing, the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (‘CIDT’), or extraordinary rendition. In no circumstance will UK personnel ever take action amounting to torture, unlawful killing, extraordinary rendition, or CIDT. The UK takes suggested incidents of this kind very seriously: these allegations against UK personnel are investigated and complaints in this context are brought to the attention of authorities in other countries”.
Having bumped into some relevant officials, I am extremely satisfied that we take this very seriously.
Going back to the earlier commissioner’s report that I read out, I am absolutely not casting aspersions on our brave and honourable staff, every one of whom, on the few occasions I have met them, I have been incredibly impressed by. I believe that they are seeking to uphold the very highest standards. That is why I put it to my right hon. Friend the Minister that this Bill would be a great moment to put these principles on a statutory footing. In that way, in future, when there is another panic over terrorism and security under another Government who are perhaps not as strongly principled as this one—perhaps with not quite the same culture at the top of adherence to and compliance with the law—we can all be reassured that we will not allow ourselves to come on to conduct that I will touch on in a moment.
Since the issue of rendition, we have had the consolidated guidance and now we have the principles where the warrants are overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. Having reviewed the principles in terms of the ISC, it is clear that they are quite robust not only in the safeguards they give but in training people throughout the organisation to ensure that they adhere to them.
I have read enough of the various documents to know that the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I am glad to agree with him.
I do not want to open up too many old wounds, but I have read the excellent book, “Account Rendered”, by the now Lord Tyrie, which includes some purportedly declassified top secret documents on how the CIA conducted their interrogation techniques. I very much hope that Ministers responsible have read those documents, because I found it quite nauseating. I am ex-forces. If you are ex-forces, then at some time in your life you are actually committed to killing our enemies, but even so I found it nauseating to see just how degrading authorised American interrogation techniques could be. The list of what they would do includes the attention grasp, or grasp by collars; walling, or slamming people against a false flexible wall; the wall standing stress position; the facial hold; facial slap stress positions; waterboarding—I think we can pretty clearly be disgusted by that—and cramped confinement, including putting insects in a box with a person who you know has a phobia. Imagine combining all these things using nudity, control of diet and restraint, putting them all in sequence deliberately for prolonged periods. That is what the declassified documents in “Account Rendered” give an account of.
I completely agree with Mr Jones that these principles are absolutely robust, and I am 100% certain in my own mind that our brave officials—men and women good and true, noble and decent—would never want, in any sense, however distant, to be complicit in extraordinary rendition for the purpose of degrading treatment. I am absolutely clear about that. But our job in this House is not to simply trust the great and good people that we have today; it is to put in place a law that makes sure that in future everyone can understand that we do not do these things, not least because showing that we are on the right side of the argument will help us to recruit agents overseas.
I am dead serious about this. It is no reflection on my very high estimation of the people who serve us and keep us safe; it is about worries about the future when there is another panic about another terrorist attack. I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister: if public-spirited lawyers draw up clauses that can put these excellent, robust principles on a statutory footing, I will certainly seek to maximise support for it, because in future we must make sure that no Government of any colour can ever discredit our great people by raising even the slightest suspicion that we might have been even distantly complicit in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners.
It is a pleasure to follow the detailed and powerful contribution by Mr Baker. It is an honour to close this debate for the Opposition. While all debates in this Chamber carry weight, no legislation can be more serious than that which concerns our national security.
Before moving to the substance of the debate, which has been exceptionally well informed and well managed, I want to pay tribute to our security services and police forces who worked so hard to make sure that the platinum jubilee could be celebrated safely, as it should be, this weekend. I have never been prouder to be part of our great nation than when seeing and taking part in the celebrations this weekend. From street parties across our communities, the lighting of beacons and the celebration of the emergency services at the magnificent Piece Hall in my constituency to the world-class performances and execution of the Platinum Party at the Palace and the royal pageant, it has been a people-powered celebration to mark 70 years of Her Majesty the Queen’s loyal service to the country. She has provided a masterclass to all of us in public service.
Yet behind those celebrations was a policing and security operation like no other in recent history. I was grateful to the Metropolitan Police’s gold commander, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Barbara Gray, for briefing on those efforts last week. I pay tribute to those on duty this weekend on the frontline of keeping us all safe. The police and security services work around the clock, ever-vigilant to the constantly evolving threats that we face as a country, whether in times of national celebration or on any other day of the week. We are truly grateful for their service, their bravery and their sacrifice.
As outlined by my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, in her opening contribution, we welcome the National Security Bill, which builds on the recommendations of the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Law Commission and delivers long-overdue updates to our current legislation. As threats and technologies have evolved and been exposed, so too have the gaps in the legislative defences necessary to keep our country safe from hostile state threats.
As my right hon. Friend outlined, however, the Bill still poses a series of serious questions as we seek to work through the detail. There are measures that we expected to form part of the Bill that are missing, as well as genuine questions about the oversight of the powers within it and the appropriate scrutiny of how and when those powers are used.
The measures proposed in the Bill have been a long time coming; the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee outlined just how long some of the measures in the Bill have been called for. The Home Secretary raised the appalling 2018 Salisbury poisonings and the need to update our laws to provide the legislative cover necessary in the face of the contemporary threats we face as a nation. While Russia’s illegal and despicable invasion of Ukraine has certainly focused minds, it would be wrong to say that the provisions in the Official Secrets Act became outdated overnight.
“The Official Secrets Act 1911…remains a cornerstone of our espionage legislation…in 1910, just six months into MI5’s existence, founding Director General Vernon Kell included in his first progress report a plea for strengthening the Official Secrets Act, as it was proving hard to prosecute espionage cases. Kell’s push led to the Official Secrets Act 1911…it is now—obviously—hugely out of date.”
Our security services need to have confidence in the legislation that underpins their vital work. They need a justice system that is ready and able to respond to those they identify and expose as acting on behalf of hostile states and to the tradecraft of their intelligence operatives.
I assure the Government of our commitment to engage constructively as we work to fortify the Bill, so it successfully ensures that the UK’s law enforcement and intelligence community has the modern tools, powers and protections that it needs to keep us all safe. In turn, however, we expect to be heard in the same spirit when we raise genuine concerns and issues. I suspect that it will not come as a surprise to the Minister when I say that perhaps the most glaring omission from the Bill is the absence of a foreign agents register. As hon. Members have already said, particularly those who have served on the Intelligence and Security Committee, not least my right hon. Friend Mr Jones, it was promised by the Government in 2019 and repeated formally in the 2021 integrated review. Britain is lagging behind its allies and Five Eyes partners Canada, America and Australia, who all have variations of such schemes in place.
As recent events have unfortunately shown, a register is urgently required to ensure that individuals in this House, and leaders and decision makers across the country, know whether the lobbyists, PR firms or other professionals they encounter are acting in good faith to further genuine business interests or causes, or are instead acting on behalf of hostile states. I was particularly interested in the contribution of Bob Seely and some of his detailed proposals on that. As the notion of elite capture increasingly becomes a form of creeping corruption that all MPs and decision makers have a responsibility to steel themselves against, the legislation before us fails to deliver the transparency and clarity that a register would bring in assisting lawmakers and others in high office to protect themselves from becoming soft targets for those acting on behalf of foreign states.
I am grateful to the Minister and his officials for their time last week. Further to the words of the Home Secretary in her opening remarks, it is our understanding that the Government intend to introduce a foreign agents register in the form of a Government amendment to the Bill later in its passage through Parliament. I stress, as others have, just how vital it is that both Houses have the opportunity to scrutinise any such scheme. I therefore urge the Government to grant both the House and such a substantial addition to the Bill the respect they deserve and to bring forward plans for the foreign agents register before the Commons Committee stage, so that we can all do our due diligence in considering the proposals effectively before we get into the somewhat relentless intensity of line-by-line scrutiny of the rest of the Bill. Almost everyone who contributed to the debate made that point.
In addition to the absence of a foreign agents register and reform of the 1989 Act, we are surprised that the Bill does not go further to tackle head-on the online misinformation and disinformation that is being peddled by countries that seek to undermine us—a point also made by Damian Collins. It has been well documented that for many years now the Russian state has regularly pushed disinformation on social media, as part of its strategy to sow division and stoke tensions in the west. Information on one so-called Russian troll factory was reported in 2017, when journalists identified 118 accounts or groups on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that were linked to the troll factory. The so-called trolls had contacted around 100 real US-based activists to offer financial help to pay for transport or printing costs to support their protests and action relating primarily to, as we have heard, race relations, Texan independence and gun rights.
Rather than support one side of a particular issue or debate, the troll factories typically encourage and offer financial assistance to groups from opposite ends of the political spectrum to amplify divisions. Disinformation has also been a facet of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A special cybersecurity report from Microsoft found that in the run-up to the invasion Russian actors used disinformation on social media in an attempt to destabilise the Ukrainian Government and Ukrainian society. Just this weekend, The Times reported on how Kremlin trolls are stirring up anti-Ukrainian refugee sentiment online in Bulgaria, and they are no doubt attempting to do the same elsewhere.
Although there are clauses in the Bill that could offer some relevant new powers in very general terms, we are surprised that neither the Online Safety Bill nor this Bill present measures that are aimed at exposing the aggressive online activity I have described, addressing its scale, disrupting it and stopping it at source. We hope that, during the Bill’s passage, we can work together to enhance such measures. Given the evidence base and societal impact, a failure to do so would be a regrettable and massive missed opportunity.
Because of the Bill’s nature, it inherently gives new statutory powers to the police, security services and the Home Secretary. Labour recognises the requirement for the new powers in principle; nevertheless, it is important that within a mechanism that grants such powers there are appropriate safeguards and accountability. We firmly believe that the legislation would benefit from much more clarity on the face of the Bill about the appropriate scrutiny and oversight from either a relevant commissioner or independent reviewer.
As the Minister knows, we have engaged with him and his officials on our serious concerns about the drafting of clause 23, and I am grateful for the note he shared today with me and my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary in response to those concerns. My hon. Friend Maria Eagle gave a typically detailed rebuttal of why clause 23, as currently drafted, is necessary, given the existing legislation. I hope the Minister will respond to her and to so many others when he sums up.
In addition to the introduction of a foreign agents register, we believe more needs to be done to protect the Government and their officials from becoming the potential targets of hostile states actors—much in the same spirit as the issues raised by my hon. Friend Chris Bryant. I am afraid there are outstanding questions about the conduct of the Prime Minister—if he still is the Prime Minister; he certainly was when I got to my feet—when he served as the Foreign Secretary, and I have written to the Minister about them.
I have asked questions at this Dispatch Box and tabled written parliamentary questions, simply asking whether the Prime Minister met the former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev in April 2018. The House deserves to know what happened, because if the then Foreign Secretary did not understand how inappropriate such a meeting would be—without officials and without close protection officers—at the height of the Salisbury poisoning, we need legislation that is unequivocal in its clarity. We will therefore table amendments to the Bill to address any such lapses in judgment, which stand to have consequences for our national security, while we await answers from the Government as to exactly what did happen in April 2018.
Once again, we in the Labour party are unwavering in our commitment to keeping the country safe. We will work with the Government to support these measures where they are right and overdue, and we expect to be heard and to be able to work together where opportunities for enhanced protections and greater oversight are necessary, appropriate and responsible. We look forward to Committee stage.
National security is the first and foremost responsibility of any Government, and for that reason I warmly welcome the thorough, insightful and eloquent fashion in which colleagues on both sides of the House have made their contributions this evening. I join the Home Secretary, Opposition Front Benchers and colleagues from right across the House in putting on the record at the start of my remarks my admiration for our security services and for law enforcement, particularly at the end of this most marvellous jubilee celebration.
The threat of hostile activity from foreign states is persistent, but it is not consistent. As a result of technological change and the greater interconnectivity of the world, among other factors, that threat manifests in ways more diverse and often more sophisticated than ever. We must therefore equip our world-class law enforcement and intelligence agencies with modern tools and powers commensurate to that challenge, and this Bill enables us to do exactly that. This is not just about the here and now. The Bill is designed to be future-proof, so that we can harden our resilience against these threats today and for years to come. We have a responsibility to ensure that our systems and laws are agile, effective and robust, and that is what this legislation is about.
The bulk of the Bill is about countering state threats, and a critical aspect of parts 1 and 2 is the link between the activity covered and the foreign state. That is vital in ensuring that the provisions in the Bill are appropriately constrained to state threats and do not capture legitimate activity or non-state criminality, as has been mentioned a number of times during the debate. The foreign power condition could be met in two scenarios: first, where an activity is carried out that a person knows, or ought reasonably to know, is for or on behalf of a foreign power, and that includes a wide range of different types of relationship, including activity at the request or direction of a foreign state; and secondly, where an activity is carried out with the intention to benefit a foreign power, and that includes cases where a person’s primary motivation may be, for example, financial, but where there can be virtually certain knowledge that a foreign power will benefit.
Three new offences in the Bill will combat the modern threat from state-linked espionage and related harmful conduct. Those are a new protection of trade secrets offence, which might otherwise be known as economic espionage; a new assisting a foreign intelligence service offence; and an offence of obtaining, or disclosure of, protected information where it is for, or on behalf of, a foreign power and where the individual ought reasonably to have known that their conduct was prejudicial to the safety and interests of the United Kingdom.
Let me turn to the points made by colleagues in the debate. I will try to get through as many of them as possible, but I will concentrate particularly on the themes that came up a number of times. Let me start with something that is not in the Bill—I will have to beg your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker—although I would say that it is in scope for the debate because it came up so many times, and that is the Official Secrets Act 1989. Colleagues will have heard the Home Secretary say earlier that we continue to look at the 1989 Act, acknowledging the difficult aspects therein. We wanted to prioritise and press ahead with the wider package of measures before us to tackle state threats and to be able to do so now.
I also want to talk specifically about the public interest defence, which was raised eloquently by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland and others, but before I do I just want to clarify how all these different things fit together. We talk about whether we are or are not reforming the Official Secrets Act, but of course there are four Official Secrets Acts, and we are reforming the Official Secrets Acts of 1911, 1920 and 1939—we are not, in this Bill, reforming the Official Secrets Act 1989. The Law Commission’s recommendations on a public interest defence came in the context of discussing overall reform of the Official Secrets Act 1989, and they have to be seen in that context.
It is important to note that using the term “public interest defence” does not of itself mean that, on balance, something is in the public interest. I suggest to the House that the existence of any public interest defence would without doubt lead to more unauthorised disclosures. It is impossible for an individual at that moment to have the full picture of what harm could come from their disclosure. That point can be exploited by people who have malicious intent.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend. He is right to caution against the danger here, but a carefully calibrated reverse burden defence deals with the mischiefs that he rightly outlines. None of us wants to see Julian Assange and his type carry sway here; we just think that we need to do something before it is done to us. That is the point.
I hear what my right hon. and learned Friend says, and I fully acknowledge not only his legal expertise overall, but specifically how much thought he has put into this subject and how he has written upon it.
Will the Minister accept then—this point was made in the debate—that having the independent statutory commissioner receive information, so avoiding it being put into the public domain, is as important a part of the package as the public interest defence itself?
I am grateful to the Minister. I hear what Stewart Hosie says. It is a compelling case, although I do not agree with it. The Official Secrets Act 1989 deals with the unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information by civil servants; giving information to journalists; a WikiLeaks-type disclosure dressed up as being by a guardian of liberty or some such other nonsense. This Bill does not deal with that unless those people are working directly for a foreign power. They might not be working directly for a foreign power, but they might be aiding a foreign power or acting indirectly for such a foreign power, and surely that needs to be included in the Bill.
I will come back to my right hon. Friend’s point in a moment. To the point that Stewart Hosie made, our position is that a public interest defence is just not the safest and best way for people to make disclosures, for some of the reasons I gave a moment ago.
If my right hon. and learned Friend will forgive me, I will not.
The existence of a public interest defence could mean that damage from the original disclosure could be compounded by further disclosures that had to be made to argue against and defeat that use of the public interest defence. That could itself then in turn be misused and mean that in some circumstances, even where there were egregious breaches of the law, in effect they could not be prosecuted. That is why, to respond to the point made by the right hon. Member for Dundee East, it is important that we look at the safe and proper channels and methods for making disclosures, where that is important, and there are times when it is. We are looking carefully at that.
To come back to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings—this is an important point in general—the defences in part 1 of the Bill provide law enforcement with several options for prosecuting disclosures where the person is acting for or on behalf of a foreign power or where the disclosure would materially assist a foreign intelligence service. That can include bulk disclosures. To be clear, with this Bill, the maximum sentence for an indiscriminate disclosure—a bulk data dump—will be higher than it is today if that act is done for a foreign power or the disclosure would materially assist a foreign intelligence service, even if not procured by that foreign intelligence service itself.
Prosecuting authorities have to make judgments. The Bill is specifically about national security, but within that it is about countering state threats. It gives us a whole new set of tools and weapons to add to our arsenal, and, notwithstanding the right hon. Gentleman’s body language, I think that that is much to be welcomed.
My hon. Friend Mr Baker asked a specific question about police stations. Because of the new arrest power in the Bill that can last up to 14 days, the Secretary of State may be required to designate specialist sites to meet the operational need, but I want to reassure my hon. Friend that this has nothing to do with extraordinary rendition. The provision mirrors those in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Terrorism Acts to ensure that appropriate facilities are available. However, it is not possible to designate such a place outside the United Kingdom. The Government are clear about the fact that torture, mistreatment and arbitrary detention are contrary to human rights law.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The other question was, where are these sites, and why are they necessary? What is the standard of the places in which people are being detained? I could name some forts and other secure places owned by the Army. Is that what we are talking about, and if so, why?
I do not think that this is an appropriate forum in which to discuss the detail of such measures, but I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend on that particular point. As I have said, this is to allow for cases in which such capacity is required owing to operational need, and it cannot be outside the United Kingdom.
A number of Members on both sides of the House have referred to the so-called STPIMs. These are a tool of last resort to prevent, restrict and disrupt an individual’s involvement in state threats activity. In the most serious cases, that could include restricting where an individual can reside, whom they can associate with, and where they can work and study. An STPIM will be used when intelligence exists to confirm that highly damaging threat activity is planned or being undertaken but prosecution is not realistic. As my hon. Friend said, with such measures it is extremely important to have the appropriate safeguards.
I want to reassure Stuart C. McDonald that STPIMs will not be imposed through ministerial decision making alone. There will be a process through the courts. A decision by the Secretary of State to impose an STPIM, once they are satisfied that the five conditions set out have been met, will be referred to a judge, and the court’s permission will be sought before an order can be made. The court is specifically tasked with checking that the ministerial decision is not flawed.
My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright and others spoke about civil legal aid for terrorists. Through the Bill, we will take action to restrict access to civil legal aid in England and Wales for individuals convicted of terrorism or terrorism-connected offences since 2001. However, I can assure my right hon. and learned Friend, my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, Maria Eagle and others who have spoken about this that the restriction of access of civil legal aid applies only to offences involving a sentence of more than two years. In any event, all individuals subject to the restriction can apply for exceptional case funding, and applications will be assessed according to the legislative framework of whether an individual’s human rights may be breached without legal aid. The type of terrorism offence that had been committed would not have bearing on the exceptional case funding decision.
I need to spend a couple of minutes going through the amendments to the Serious Crime Act 2007, an important subject that a number of colleagues have brought up, including my right hon. Friend Mr Davis and my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe. The context, of course, is that our intelligence and security services and armed forces do and must work in close partnership with international partners to maximise UK capabilities and their ability to protect national security on our behalf. A key part of that is sharing intelligence and data to support joint objectives.
However, it is possible that such intelligence, when shared in good faith and in accordance with all domestic and international law, could still be capable of contributing, even in a very small or indirect way that was not intended at the time it was shared, to an international partner’s engaging in activity that the UK would not support. The Serious Crime Act 2007 creates an offence where an act is done that is
“capable of encouraging or assisting…an offence”.
That means that in this scenario there is a risk of individuals facing criminal liability, even when they have operated in good faith and in accordance with the guidance and proper authorisation.
Put simply, the Government believe it is not fair to expect the liability for that unforeseen eventuality to sit with an individual officer of our intelligence services or member of the armed forces who is acting with wholly legitimate intentions. Instead, the liability should sit with the UK intelligence community and the military at an institutional level, where they are subject to executive, judicial and parliamentary oversight. The amendment at clause 23 therefore removes that liability for individuals, but specifically only where the activity is necessary for the proper exercise of the functions of the security and intelligence services or the armed forces. It does not remove liability at an institutional level for any activity.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I think there is no dispute across the House that some protection should be available for individuals in those circumstances. The question we have been asking is how different what clause 23 provides for is from what already exists in law. Clause 23 will ask for consideration to be given of whether there has been a proper exercise of a function. That must logically, therefore, relate to the behaviour of an individual, must it not?
My right hon. and learned Friend anticipates my next point to some extent. In instances where an individual has operated in good faith in compliance with domestic and international law and all proper process, they would then not face the risk of liability under the 2007 Act for something they could not have foreseen. In effect, we are adding greater certainty and specificity to an existing defence—the reasonable defence contained within that Act—by detailing scenarios where the offence will not apply, whereas the current defence is untested and imprecise.
The amendment means that, where an individual is working properly on behalf of our intelligence and security services and armed forces with an international partner to protect national security, they do not personally risk criminal liability if their work is later found to have been capable of contributing to unlawful activity in a way they would not have intended. That risk should remain with the Government, the services and the armed forces at corporate level, and that is what this amendment seeks to ensure.
A number of colleagues have raised the question of disinformation. They are correct that information operations are now a firm feature in the set of devices available to hostile states. There is direct disinformation, where talking points are put out on those states, on foreign affairs or on our domestic politics and society, but there is also the terrible technique of indirect disinformation, which is not necessarily intended to make anybody believe a particular line or narrative, but is simply aimed at causing division and discord in our country, to undermine our democracy and the cohesion of our society.
This Bill deals with people who carry out disinformation for a foreign state, but I want to be clear that legislation on the material itself belongs in the Online Safety Bill. We are looking at how to amend that Bill to account for disinformation material where that disinformation amounts to foreign interference, so that it can be treated as illegal material.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and appreciate the way in which he is stepping through these points. Is an offence created by the provider of a social media platform if it enables someone to spread harmful messages? Does it count as a proxy, in effect?
The right hon. Gentleman tempts me to open up a very wide debate, somewhat outside the scope of Second Reading. He is absolutely right to identify the significance of disinformation and wider information operations as undertaken by foreign states and the obvious role of social media in that. The American election of 2016 remains the textbook example—there are plenty of others around the world. What I have set out is the way in which the Bill deals with people doing that on behalf of foreign states. As for platforms’ responsibility for what they do with the material and the steps that they must take—he will know about the principles in the Online Safety Bill not only to remove material but to minimise its presence in the first place—that is rightly subject matter for the Online Safety Bill.
Finally, on the foreign influence registration scheme—this has been raised by many colleagues across the House, including my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis, my hon. Friend Bob Seely, Yvette Cooper and others—as the Home Secretary indicated when opening the debate, we are committed to introducing a foreign influence registration scheme through a Government amendment. It is important that we take time to ensure that such a scheme is effective and proportionate in the way in which it counters state-threat activity and protects UK interests. That was a clear message in the public consultation, and we continue to review requirements in the light of Russian attempts to undermine western and European state stability.
If I may say so, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight illustrated rather well the great complexities of trying to deal with this subject. I absolutely commit to communicating with the Opposition parties and the Intelligence and Security Committee as we introduce this measure. We want to do it as soon as possible, and we absolutely recognise the importance of scrutiny in both Houses. However, I want to make it clear that we cannot commit to doing that for the beginning of the Committee stage; but we want to do it as soon as possible thereafter.
I hear the request from my right hon. Friend. That is a question partly for the business managers and the usual channels, who have heard the request and have to balance it against all the other things that they need to balance for the operation of the House. Overall, I can assure him that I have heard colleagues—him and others—on the importance of having time for scrutiny.
We have nearly half an hour. I do not know why this Minister is making such a fuss about the urgency to conclude a debate that is scheduled to run until 10 o’clock if necessary.
For some very unclear reason, the Government decided to introduce what should be a major plank of the legislation not at the beginning, so that we could include a proper debate on Second Reading, but through an amendment, when the process was under way. All we want to know is that the whole House can debate properly something that we have not yet seen, so there must be a Committee of the whole House, otherwise we will have only the meagre opportunity offered by Report. He should not be blasé in dismissing that suggestion.
I do not think that I have been blasé in the slightest. I have spent my winding-up remarks trying to cover as fully as I can the various themes—[Interruption.] I have taken quite a few interventions, including, I think, from Mr Jones, which was important. The decision about the timetabling of debates on the Floor of the House is not mine fully to make. In terms of this debate, I am not trying to rush things at all. Normally, Ministers would take the same amount of time, broadly speaking, as Opposition Front Benchers, and I am simply trying to follow those conventions.
One last time: the Minister has taken a lot of interventions about the matters that are in the Bill, but there is a whole tranche that is not in the Bill that will be introduced in an amendment, and he has only briefly touched on that. That is inevitable, because it is not in the Bill. When that tranches comes into the Bill, the whole House should have an opportunity properly to debate it.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. As I have said, I have heard those points, as, I am sure, have the business managers.
In closing, I want to repeat my earlier thanks to everybody for their insightful and eloquent contributions to this debate. I thank the Opposition and the Scottish National party for the spirit and the attitude with which they have taken part in this debate. I look forward to further debate and scrutiny from them and from colleagues across the House as we go through Committee. These are issues of the very greatest importance for our country and for the Government. The stakes are high. It is about protecting our security and our prosperity. It is about preserving our democracy and our way of life. It is about keeping our citizens safe. This Bill will enable us to achieve those most critical of aims and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.