International Investment - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:18 pm on 17th October 2017.

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Photo of Lord Mendelsohn Lord Mendelsohn Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (International Trade) 3:18 pm, 17th October 2017

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement in this House. I also thank him for his personal interest in these matters, not just in relation to Bombardier but for his deep involvement in shaping the Green Paper, which is shown through its pages.

I turn to the last part of the Statement, which is the very welcome news that Bombardier and Airbus have determined to create a joint venture to look at developing the C Series aircraft. The pairing of these two cutting-edge product lines is a very exciting prospect for the future of aerospace manufacturing and the excellent industry that we have here. We are hugely encouraged by such a step and what it means for the UK. I would be grateful to the Minister for some further information on what assurances or indications the Government have gained from both companies as to the likely investment or potential for jobs growth in this country as a result of such an excellent step. I reaffirm the broad consensus of the House, as demonstrated during the course of the last Statement, that we strongly support the Government’s actions in defending Bombardier’s position against a completely unjustified and unwarranted attack by Boeing, and a process which we are not convinced is as straightforward and clear as it could be. We urge the Government to do whatever they can and we support their continued efforts to try to ensure a swift and speedy resolution of these matters.

We warmly welcome the excellent and timely Green Paper National Security and Investment and Infrastructure Review. We are pleased that the Government have chosen to look at how we can update our structures to deal more effectively with changing times. As a general observation, this creates further changes to our merger regime, some of which the Minister has already mentioned, such as matters involving the Takeover Panel and the FCA and further reviews of corporate governance. Even some of the insolvency reforms have a bearing on how we look at this regime. I make a plea for a more holistic process in how we review these issues of industrial strategy. Especially as we face Brexit, it would be useful if the Government could come up with a more joined-up approach to how these different parts can achieve the outcomes that we want, rather than having conflicting and competing claims or unwelcome consequences.

In relation to the principles from which we approach this review, it is important to state—as the review itself does—that we have to ensure that the UK remains open for investment and participation. We still want to be a major global player in all these areas. Sometimes the indication that we are involved in a review creates a chill. We should be clear that, while it is entirely legitimate to protect the country’s interests, we will not create a large investment review. This also applies to how we address issues such as the clawback of funds and how those funds might be used for early development or other things for companies which might not be eligible. That provision would itself raise a series of questions. One has to assess things delicately and put them in sensible terms. The intention is clearly right, but we would not want it to have unwelcome consequences.

We are pleased with the short-term and long-term approach to ensuring that we have an adaptable and operational system. The review stresses our foreign direct investment position, which this House has discussed many times. We are mildly sceptical about the nature of some of this investment. The charts in the paper identify the level. If we subtract the gold transactions which take place in the UK as goods received—which effectively net each other out—I am not sure the position would be so flattering. Our FDI position is not as good as is suggested and we should be conscious that we have a long way to go in encouraging the right sort of job-creating investment. The review should be seen in that context, rather than giving the feeling that we are in a much stronger position than we are.

Will the Minister provide some thoughts on the following issues? First, what are our national security requirements? Are these strategic or are they direct security concerns? What balance will be in place on issues such as security of supply versus strategic control, as well as our own capacity to ensure that we have certain technologies? We welcome the important short-term measure of lower thresholds, which does plug gaps. On long-term measures, the review is right to look at mechanisms such as call-ins and notifications. However, these raise questions themselves, the first of which is the nature of acquisitions and security concerns as companies develop in the modern world. This is not always about the takeover of a company. As we have seen from the way in which companies acquire access to technology and other things, this can frequently be done through partnerships, joint ventures and other things which do not involve a complete and direct transfer of equity. Sometimes control changes due to debt, so we need to consider all these measures. I would be very grateful for the Minister’s observations on those points.

In relation to the nature of these companies, we have looked at lower tests on dual use in the military sector and those involved in the design of computer chips and quantum technology. Certainly, our security concerns can be identified in other high-tech sectors, including life sciences and even food technology, as well as other areas of science and research. I would be very grateful to be told how the Government decided which sectors to select.

In the context of the voluntary and mandatory reforms, what was the thinking behind the notion that you can divide those sectors into voluntary and mandatory? Certainly, the guidance the Minister talked about would be enhanced by giving a much clearer view on that.

Finally—I do not wish to sound too mischievous, but I will ask this question anyway—does our reviewing the matter at this stage suggest that we may well take a different view over the long term, as these companies already fell within the threshold, or that we might be open to taking a different view on what took place in relation to ARM or even Hinkley Point?