Amendment 7 (to Amendment 6)

National Security and Investment Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 15th April 2021.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle:

Moved by Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle

7: After “climate change” insert “and biodiversity loss”

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, as this is my first contribution to Report stage of this Bill, I make reference to the Law Society briefing. In summary, it expresses concerns about the Bill’s lack of a clear definition of national security, the definition of qualifying entities and assets, and the procedure for voluntary and mandatory notifications— the whole Bill then. There are grave concerns about the degree to which this has been thought through, through no fault of anyone here in this debate—a small number of people have put in a huge amount of often detailed work. On this point, it is right to note how appropriate it is that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, opened the debate on Report. I ask noble Lords to forgive me if anything in my speech today is unclear, since I am still in recovery from a minor bit of dental work this morning.

I speak now to Amendment 6 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Fox, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Grantchester, to which I have attached my name, making it truly cross-party. It requires the Secretary of State to have regard to the risk to national security posed by climate change when making regulations relating to notifiable acquisitions. I also beg to move Amendment 7 and speak to Amendment 38 in my name. Amendment 7 adds “biodiversity loss” to the matters posing a risk to national security that the Secretary of State must have regard to when making regulations relating to notifiable acquisitions. Amendment 38 in some ways ties this all together, along with other matters, stating that:

“Within 6 months of the passing of this Act the Secretary of State must publish a statement which outlines how provisions in this Act will align with the United Kingdom’s long term security priorities and concerns which have been identified in the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.”

That amendment is a repeat of an amendment in Committee—tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, and signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and myself—which has been only minorly updated to take account of the publication of the integrated review.

In introducing this group, the noble Lord, Lord Fox, has already spoken clearly and eloquently on the way in which the climate emergency is a national security issue. I note his focus on the list of technologies, which he has kindly offered to work with me on. I have not yet managed to get to that, but I will, and I very much appreciate his offer. I can also go to the Prime Minister’s foreword to the integrated review, which states:

Her Majesty’s Government will make tackling climate change and biodiversity loss its number one international priority.”

I know that there are now few Members of your Lordships’ House who would at least actively deny the issue of the climate emergency. That does not include, I hope, any members of the new Environment and Climate Change Committee. Therefore, I will focus my remarks primarily on Amendment 7, which adds the concern about biodiversity to that of climate change. I might for completeness have made this amendment refer to planetary limits as a sustainable development goal-informed way of addressing the multiple national security threats from environmental degradation, social inequality and poverty, but this is at least a step along the way towards genuine systems thinking in our legislation.

I am aided by the publication this morning of a report in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, which finds that just 3% of the world’s land remains ecologically intact, with healthy populations of its original animals and undisturbed habitats. Previous estimates had been as high as 20%—now 3% of land is in decent, original condition. The more we come to understand about this planet, of which we still have so little knowledge, the more that the damage that we have done becomes evident. Those fragments of wilderness undamaged by human activities are mainly in the Amazon and Congo tropical forests, eastern Siberia, northern Canadian forests and tundra, and the Sahara. None of those is in the UK. Indeed, the UK ranks as one of the most naturally degraded nations on the planet, at 189 out of 218 nations in the independent State of Nature report. Restoration of land—for example, our upland peatlands—is something that our security very clearly depends on, whether in terms of climate, flooding or biodiversity. But, of course, there are British companies that are likely to have influence on the remaining untouched 3% of our landmass.

None the less, I can almost feel from a distance some Members of your Lordships’ House bristling, “What does this all have to do with national security?” I would argue that there is nothing more crucial to human security—national security—than the state of nature, including the state of our climate. If noble Lords do not want to listen to me, they might want to listen to the Nobel Peace Prize committee, which gave its award to the environmentalist Wangari Maathai back in 2004. Of course, she was most famous for tree planting. To make the obvious point, the very air you breathe today, the existence of life on this planet, is due to the process of photosynthesis in plants—due to nature. All the food that we eat also depends on that very same process, and it is the source of the genetics of all our current crops.

I briefly cite another recent academic study, in Global Change Biology, which demonstrates how existing crops have been greatly damaged by decades of industrial agriculture and breeding for yield, not resilience, and highlights the need to retain and support wild relatives of crops as a source for future cross-breeding to restore them. Or, to focus on something that your Lordships’ House must have at the forefront of its mind, there is also the massive ongoing threat of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. That emerged out of disturbed nature—the zoonosis threat that all the experts tell us is accelerating because of our destruction of nature.

Finally, I return to Amendment 38, which calls for a report in six months’ time on how this Bill relates to the integrated review. Again, we are talking about systems thinking, joining up different parts of government, seeing how they fit together and subjecting that to democratic scrutiny and oversight. We will debate that review next week, so I will not venture here in depth, but lots of the commentary on it has said that it identifies the problems clearly but fails to make choices between difficult alternatives—something that this amendment could help with in creating an opportunity for the House to consider those and to force the Government to confront them.

It is not my intention to test the opinion of your Lordships’ House on these two amendments. There will be ongoing debate and discussion, but I am confident that we will see climate change, biodiversity, sustainable development goals and systematic joined-up thinking at the absolute heart of our national and international security in future. I very much hope that in the future, we will look back and see that we made the right choices today, because there is no doubt at all that, in the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis, we are right at the crunch point where action is needed.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 2:45 pm, 15th April 2021

My Lords, in Committee we debated the climate emergency as the most pressing issue that affects every aspect of everyday life. The climate crisis is not only a threat in the long term to our survival and that of the planet but a threat to security in the short to medium term. According to the Government’s own statistics, nature loss will result in a cumulative economic cost of up to £10 billion between 2011 and 2050. While the Minister may say that climate change is not directly connected to the national security and investment regime proposed in the Bill, actions by hostile actors that stifle our modern green infrastructure can only make us more vulnerable. As the former civil servant Paddy McGuinness has recently said, green networks

“provide an attractive opportunity for an adversary to unbalance, intimidate, paralyse or even defeat us."

I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, who have returned with simple “must have regard to” wording in Amendments 6 and 7 regarding climate change and biodiversity loss. Of course, all Governments will have regard to all legislation on the statute book that impacts on our activities and lives. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the risks of climate change be recognised in the new regime being initiated through the Bill, and the Secretary of State must consider how to mitigate these deepening risks.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for retabling our Amendment 38 from Committee, which asks for a statement to be made on emerging threats in the light of priorities identified in the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. It allows me to follow up with some further questions on the integrated review and its associated documents.

Can the minister provide an outline of how the ISU will work effectively with the MoD directorate for economic security? It is all very well to say that the ISU will be drawing on the expertise in the MoD and the Defence Secretary will be able to make representations to the Business Secretary, but what mechanisms will be set up to co-ordinate across departments? Will there be a mechanism whereby the MoD directorate can give advice directly to businesses in a defence and supply chain through policies initiated from the ISU in the business department, especially in connection with technologies and future associated threats? It would be helpful if the Minister could respond or follow up with a letter in due course.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I am grateful once again to the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett—I am particularly grateful that she has joined us after her dental work and of course we wish her a speedy recovery—for their respective amendments in this grouping.

With the permission of the House, I will take Amendments 6 and 7 together. Amendment 6 seeks to require the Secretary of State to

“have regard to the risk to national security posed by climate change” when preparing secondary legislation under Clause 6 in relation to the scope of the mandatory notification regime. Amendment 7 then seeks to amend Amendment 6 to require the Secretary of State to also have regard to the risk to national security posed by biodiversity loss.

I commend the sentiment of the amendments regarding tackling climate change. As I set out in Grand Committee, this Government are of course committed to tackling the climate crisis. I can also confirm, in response to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that, just as the Prime Minister has said in his foreword to the integrated review, biodiversity loss very much sits alongside that as the UK’s top international priority. The Government continue to promote co-operation on climate action through the UK’s G7 presidency, and we look forward to the COP 26 conference in November, which will allow us to highlight our leadership in tackling the climate crisis, including biodiversity loss.

However, the Bill is focused on the risks to our national security posed by the acquisition of control over qualifying entities and assets. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, correctly predicted, we are therefore unable to accept amendments seeking to set out what is or is not a factor to be considered when looking at national security, including factors relating to climate change and biodiversity loss, without edging closer to defining it—which, as he knows, we are reluctant to do. I hope that having my comments on the record in response to these issues provides due assistance to noble Lords. I can further reassure them that, as drafted, the Bill provides the flexibility for the Secretary of State to consider all types of risk to national security that are relevant in the context of this regime, including those that are environmental in nature.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for her Amendment 38, which seeks to ensure that the national security and investment regime is consistent with the recently published integrated review. I note that a similar amendment was tabled in Grand Committee by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Northover. However, whereas that amendment asked for a report

“as soon as reasonably practicable”, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has opted for “within six months”. As noble Lords will be aware, the integrated review provides a comprehensive articulation of the UK’s national security and international policy. It outlines three fundamental national interests: sovereignty, security and prosperity.

I understood the benefits of an amendment in Grand Committee when the Government had not published the integrated review but, now that we have, the alignment is clear for all to see. For example, the NSI will be tremendously valuable in countering state threats, in maintaining the UK’s resilience and in helping us to work with and learn from our allies, to name but a few areas of alignment. Indeed, as noble Lords would expect, this Bill is explicitly referenced within the review.

As noble Lords will know, the National Security and Investment Bill will prove a key tool in enabling the UK to tackle its long-term security concerns and pursue its priorities. The Bill will create carefully calibrated powers for the Secretary of State to counteract concerns around acquisitions and the flexibility to respond to changing risks and a changing security landscape. As part of this, the regulation-making powers in the Bill allow the Secretary of State to keep pace with emerging threats as they arise, such as by enabling them to update the sectors covered by mandatory notification.

Therefore, for the reasons that I have set out, I do not see a strong case for the amendments and I very much hope that their proposers will feel able to withdraw them.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 7 (to Amendment 6) withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I thank noble Lords for that debate and I thank the Minister for his response. It was entirely predictable, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who has just slipped out, said when we discussed the previous group.

What I heard the Minister say—

“types of risk … including those that are environmental in nature”— was slightly more explicit than what is in the Bill. My sense when the Minister talks about long-term security is that the technology needed to maintain or further our fight against climate change will increasingly become a long-term concern. I suspect that this unit will find itself embroiled in calling in transactions that indeed concern the environment because they deal with technologies that are environmental in nature.

I will think again on this issue, and obviously I will read Hansard to make sure that I have got the words correct, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.

Clause 8: Control of entities

Amendment 8 not moved.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:00 pm, 15th April 2021

We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 9. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.