My Lords, this amendment comes with Amendment 75, which is the substantive amendment. I suppose I should declare a certain underlying prejudice as I start: more than 30 years ago, when I was in charge of research at Chatham House, the international affairs think tank, when we worked with departments across Whitehall on foreign policy issues, we found that the Home Office was the most resistant to the idea that foreign interests had to be taken into account. I have a vivid memory of a conference at Chatham House convened on behalf of the Metropolitan Police with police from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and elsewhere, at which a number of Home Office civil servants stood in a corner of the room during lunch rather than talk to foreigners. I am sure, 30 years later, that the Home Office is far better than that, but I think there is a problem of how the Bill, as it becomes an Act, looks to our closest friends and allies.
The aim of the Bill is to guard against foreign interference in British politics and British life by hostile foreign powers—above all, by China, Russia and Iran, but also other non-democratic states that want to undermine open societies and democratic government. Yet the definition of “foreign power” does not discriminate in any way between the more than 190 foreign powers with which the UK maintains political, economic and social relations, except for Ireland as a special case. I understand that there have been critical comments from within the US Administration and several European Governments. Yesterday, the German party foundations were speaking to my noble friend Lord Purvis about their worries about being caught by the new red tape which this threatens to impose on them.
I have heard Ministers say that it is important in passing Bills to give signals to those whom they will affect. Well, this Bill sends a signal to our friends and allies that we think they are potentially hostile and untrustworthy. Offence will be given, obstacles will be erected and bureaucratic procedures will be created. Yet the intensity of our political, economic and social relations with friendly states is of a qualitatively different order from those with hostile states, in particular pariah states such as Iran.
Many of us have spent a great deal of our professional and political lives engaged closely with foreign Governments and political parties with which we are aligned. I should here mention Amendment 74, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, will no doubt speak. Those of us who belong to international party federations or who have spent our professional lives dealing with international policy will find ourselves very rapidly caught up in this. During my career, I got to know a number of Republican senators on the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations at conferences and other places, as well as senior officials at the State Department and elsewhere—and, yes, occasionally the people I met were in the CIA.
That is the sort of thing that one has to do when working in think tanks trying to understand international relations, and not just non-partisan think tanks such as Chatham House; some of the well-funded right-wing think tanks that have grown in the last few years have very close links with their comparators in Washington and with senior Republicans. This would mean red tape for all of them, from a Government who are not in favour of adding red tape. Of course we talk about things; we engage in second-track diplomacy and try to influence each other.
In those contexts, one wants to consider whether some of our friendly states—those with which we have the closest interactions—should be excluded. That is what this amendment does. We have chosen to put down the member states of NATO because that is a clear category of close allies. We recognise that it does not include Australia and New Zealand, for example, and the Secretary of State might well like to designate Japan. However, the purpose of this amendment is to give the Government an opportunity to say that we do not regard as hostile all foreign powers or intimate conversations about politics and attempts to influence—and perhaps on occasion to direct—each other.
I have another vivid memory of a meeting at Chatham House when the second President Bush was about to take office. John Bolton and a number of others came to Chatham House and told us what we must do on behalf of the British Government in terms of following whatever the US Administration gave us. It was a pretty blatant attempt to direct what we did—no doubt we should have reported it to the Government at the time, instead of which we simply boiled internally.
I hope the Minister will assure us that the way in which contacts with the American, Dutch, Danish, Swedish and other Governments are treated will be of a qualitatively different order. I hope he will say that we need to change that part of the Bill. On a previous occasion when I criticised some of what this Government have done in the last few years, the Minister responded, “Yes, but now this is a different Government”. Happily, it is. We now have a Prime Minister who understands diplomacy and understands that we gain more by treating our neighbours as friendly Governments. I congratulate him on the achievement that he has just managed to negotiate. In that case, we need a different approach in this Bill as well. This amendment is a way of pushing us in that different direction, towards the foreign powers that are our closest friends, allies and neighbours. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 74 in my name. It deals with the definition of “foreign powers”, which clearly is a key part of the overall Bill.
However, I first need to talk about this part of the Bill in relation to FIRS, which we will cover next week—or maybe the week after, or the week after that, given the rate at which we are going; I hope not. I need to do that because the definition of a foreign power in Clause 32 determines who will be covered by the scheme we will come to later. In doing so, I make it clear that I greatly welcome the changes to FIRS contained in the government amendments, which again we will come to later, as they take account of the arguments made in Committee.
However, there is an anomaly that remains which particularly worries me. Many external political parties, including those from friendly states—not only NATO, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, mentioned, but New Zealand and Australia—will find themselves subject to registration and reporting requirements on issues completely unrelated to Government policy, let alone security issues. This is the National Security Bill we are discussing, not a lobbying Bill. These states will be caught on issues that have nothing to do with government policy or security.
Clause 32(1)(e) defines a foreign power as a political party whose members form the Government. At the moment, that would mean, for example, the Democrats in America, the Labour Party in New Zealand and Australia, and En Marche!—or whatever it is now called—in France. The Minister will know better than I do which of the Conservatives’ close associates are also in Government in various countries and therefore would be caught by this. The definition in Clause 32 covers the whole Bill, which might be appropriate for some parts of the Bill but certainly not for Part 3. The registration and reporting of activities in Part 3 has an enormous number of requirements—if we leave this definition to cover that—for political parties on non-security issues.
Assuming the Minister’s amendments go through, perhaps most worrying is the new Clause 70(3)(d), which means that FIRS covers any communication by a relevant overseas party—one whose members form the Government—which could affect, or is about,
“the proceedings of a UK registered political party”.
Stop and think about that. This will cover a political party in a friendly country having to register its activities in this country. The Minister will immediately pop up and say, “No, not if they do it directly—only if they do it through a third party”, but that is what happens, as we do these things through third parties. For us, it means if a fellow member of a sister party that is in Government—I do not know if the Conservatives call their friendly parties “sister parties”, but we always use the phrase—uses a consultancy, for example, or a PR firm, to ask us to support the change in the venue for the next Party of European Socialists Congress, or our work on the environment or an equality manifesto, the publication of something in a newspaper, an ad about a disaster or anything completely internal to our party-to-party relationships; but if is done by an intermediary, it becomes reportable to the Government, not of our political persuasion at the moment, of course, and published.
I doubt that is what the Government want because this is not about transparency now. We are into Big Brother land. I ask the Minister whether, if members of a party in Government, not the Government itself, contact any of us—if you look at Schedule 14 it could be not only us but, for example, councillors, even candidates, mayors via a conference organiser or a public affairs adviser—about any issue, such as a free trade agreement or a completely non-government issue such as an upcoming internal seminar being run between parties, where we tend to use intermediaries such as conference organisers, and they want to invite a party member as a speaker, it would have to be reported because it is via an intermediary. That is how I have read it and it is what he said when we had a very helpful meeting: if you use an intermediary, it is reportable.
Similarly, if party staffers from the party in Government organise a stall or a workshop at a party conference, and do so via a conference organising company, they are paying these intermediaries; therefore, they are acting under their direction. Those were the very helpful words the Minister gave me. They are therefore doing it on the order of the sister party in that other country. They are being directed by that party; the party is paying them to contact us to appear in a seminar or whatever it is. Is that reportable, and is there a criminal penalty if they fail to do it?
If they use an intermediary, who could be an interpreter or a translator, and they pay for that expertise, and they are again directing that party as to what they should do, would that be reportable—not just reportable, but reportable, for us as the Labour Party, to a Conservative Secretary of State, and a lot of this published? Non-governing parties are not covered, so the French socialists can come over and do what they like with us, and that is fine because they are not in Government, but it applies if we start holding seminars which the German Social Democrats, for example, set up using an intermediary such as a conference facilitating company.
For the Minister’s own party, some of their sister parties would also be covered by this when they go to Birmingham, or wherever the Conservatives have their party conference. I doubt very much that, at the beginning, it was the intention of the Government for their definition of foreign influence to get down to this level.
Over the weekend, or perhaps on Monday, some of us were sent very helpfully all the draft regulations and the forms that have to be filled in with people’s private mobile numbers and all sorts of details about what is going to happen, the dates of it, its purpose, the desired outcome, the individuals involved, contact details, the contact for the intermediary, and the invitations and which MPs they are going to. For possibly one meeting on the fringe of a party conference, or a TV interview, or the drafting of an article done by a party via an intermediary, all this would need to be reported.
I am not asking Ministers tonight to redraft this. I am asking—and I think there may be some willingness to do it—for the Government to look hard at whether it is really the intention that FIRS should include this party-to-party relationship, or party-to-politician relationship, where it is done via a third party. I hope that we can get some satisfactory answers or an undertaking that we could perhaps meet, and, if necessary, that some further tweaking might happen to this part of the Bill.
My Lords, I completely support what has been said by my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire in moving our Amendment 75, in respect of the exclusion of NATO members from the definition of foreign power, for all the reasons he gave and that I gave in Committee.
Put shortly, we cannot see any valid reason for treating NATO members as foreign powers on the same basis as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. We are tied to our NATO allies by a treaty which imposes binding mutual obligations of defence and support. I have considerable understanding for the concern and disappointment expressed in public and in the press by representatives of some friendly nations of that unflattering equivalence of treatment. Those feelings mentioned by my noble friend Lord Wallace are not helpful to British foreign policy or diplomacy.
I also cannot see why the Government would not regard it as positively helpful to have the power to add friendly nations to a list of countries that will not be regarded as foreign powers for the purposes of this legislation. It may be that the Government will conclude in due course, even if not now, that the inclusion of all friendly countries as foreign powers may be profoundly unhelpful to our national position. To have the power, if that transpires, to exclude countries from the definition by regulation, may be regarded then as thoroughly convenient. Why will the Government not accept the flexibility that this part of the amendment offers?
As to the exclusion of governing political parties from the definition of foreign powers, this was an amendment we moved in Committee and which we supported then, and support now, for many of the reasons mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, in support of Amendment 74. We see no basis for categorising all political parties that form any part of a foreign Government as foreign powers, as proposed in Clause 32(1)(e). It is unrealistic, it makes no sense and it is wrong in principle.
As the noble Baroness pointed out, this is the definition of foreign powers that governs the application of FIRS, as well as Part 1 and other parts of the Bill. It could cause all kinds of difficulties where there are coalition Governments, often without UK-style collective responsibility. It is also the case that political parties are themselves diffuse in their views and often divided. To equate all governing parties with the foreign powers in whose Government they take a part—often a small part—is, we say, profoundly misguided. Perhaps the Minister could explain how the Government justify treating even small coalition parties as the Governments of which they form a part?
My Lords, I think that this part of the Bill was drawn up by someone who had not travelled very widely. It really just does not make sense.
I speak particularly to Clause 32. I do not exactly spend all my time, but I do spend a good bit of it, talking to embassies in London, largely from European Union countries that I have known for some time. I also go to Brussels very regularly because I still have interests there. I meet many people from other parties and groups—for a time I was a member of the Belgian Christian Democrat party—and I wonder where this lands. Of course, in some countries—Belgium is one—you will always have a coalition; it moves around, but it is always there.
There are also many other groups—for instance, the Kangaroo Group in Strasbourg covers all of the European Union and exists to pull down barriers to trade. I am a member of that group still because it has a foreign membership category. What are we supposed to do? Incidentally, the Kangaroo Group was set up by Basil de Ferranti, a British Conservative—though it is now a long time since he has been with us. This is a bit of a mess.
I want to deal in particular with Germany, which has a long tradition of political foundations. It has the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, which I do lectures for from time to time; I will be doing one later this month. It has the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, which is the socialist, or social democrat, one. It has the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung, which is, if I remember rightly, the one from the liberal party, and it has the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung from the Greens. They all engage in trying to hold international conferences and gatherings to put across their policies, and they also invite people like me, who are reasonably well known in Germany, to go and give lectures and talks to members of their Stiftung. Part of the reason for that is to educate their own citizens in overseas political practice; it is not all one-way. I think we have missed something out here.
The Minister will say that it will not mean this and it will not mean that, but other people have looked at this Bill and at the explanations. In particular, the German foundations have concluded, reading this draft law on entities acting on behalf of a foreign power—under the law, Germany is a foreign power; that is the definition —that, if they are to get money from their Stiftung to do any work in Britain, the Stiftung will have to satisfy the German Government that it is legitimate to accept and apply for that money.
According to the German lawyers, Clause 31(2)(c), which says that any work carried out
“with financial or other assistance provided by a foreign power for that purpose, or … in collaboration with, or with the agreement of, a foreign power”,
means that the Stiftungen will fall under the scope of the registration scheme. In other words, if the Stiftungen are to be able to operate and satisfy their funders, they will have to satisfy them about this clause in our legislation. This means that a German Stiftung—a political foundation—that receives German taxpayers’ money, or for that matter a cultural institute, Chamber of Commerce or any London-based NGO or think tank that receives money from Germany, is an agent of a foreign power and has to register, according to the definition, every single interaction with UK politicians or high-ranking officials within 28 days. They have described this as making their lives “impossible”. I say to the Minister that it is not what we say the law means; it is what it means to a lawyer, and in this case what it means to a German lawyer.
I cannot agree that the concept of “foreign principle” has been removed. It has been removed and replaced with “foreign power”, but this does not cover what is needed. The fact of the matter is that, in the Minister’s letter, he very carefully said:
That is not the German interpretation of our law. The Minister can shrug his shoulders, but the sensible way forward would be to accept an amendment such as the one put down by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, which makes it quite clear that these countries are not foreign powers for the purpose of this legislation. I invite the Minister to think carefully and come back at Third Reading with a much better definition. This general, catch-all “foreign powers” covers all of NATO but also, as has been mentioned, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Where are we going? Please could the Minister think it out a bit better and clarify it, possibly along the lines of the amendment, but certainly so that the people we deal with every day, who are cheerfully telling me about the attitude of the British Government to the reconstruction of Ukraine—which is not quite what the British Government are saying but is what the diplomats are picking up—can continue to brief us and keep us on top of things?
My Lords, I want to speak briefly to ask the Minister a question. I support what has been said by my noble friend Lady Hayter and the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Marks, but is Clause 32(1)(e) not possibly a case of government overreach? When it is listed that a political party involved in a Government of a friendly power should be included in the Bill in this way, does it imply that every member of that political party would be covered by this provision? Are we talking about the headquarters of a political party or the membership? That would involve so many people, I wonder whether the Government really mean to do that and, if so, whether they realise what an incredible extension and overreach that might represent.
My Lords, this has been a more wide-ranging debate than I was anticipating. The definition of a foreign power is an important issue. It was covered by the Minister in Committee, and I look forward to him expanding on what he said and particularly to address the points made by my noble friend Lady Hayter in her Amendment 74. I think I will leave it there because we have other business to deal with, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and I will do my best to clarify all the points and answer all the questions that have been raised. First, I turn to government Amendment 76, which addresses concerns raised in Committee and in the report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the drafting of the third limb of the foreign power threat activity provision. This provision is a key part of the Bill which ensures that police have the powers they need in supporting investigations into state threats offences. The concerns raised were that support or assistance unrelated to the harmful conduct covered by foreign power threat activity under Clause 33(3) risked being caught under Clause 33(1)(c). That is not the Government’s intention, and this amendment puts it beyond doubt that the support or assistance must be in relation to the conduct covered by Clause 33(1)(a) rather than unrelated activity. I hope that addresses the concerns helpfully put forward by noble Lords in Committee and that this amendment is welcomed.
“a political party which is a governing political party of a foreign government” from the definition. I would very much like to thank the noble Baroness for the constructive engagement we have had on this issue. I know her principal concern is with the effect of this clause on the foreign influence registration scheme, which of course we will be debating next week.
The foreign power condition applies right across the Bill and is crucial in order that the new offences in it, such as espionage, theft of trade secrets and sabotage, work effectively. Removing it here would remove it from those other offences too. The Government’s position, as the noble Baroness is aware, is that the inclusion of governing political parties addresses situations where there is a dominant political party, or parties, within a country, to such extent that it may be difficult to disentangle whether harmful activities have been carried out on the direction of the ruling party or the Government.
We must be careful not to create any gaps in our legislation which state actors could exploit. We are all aware that states seeking to exert their influence on the United Kingdom or to harm it will do so through a number of vectors. While it is arguably the case that a person acting for a governing political party could be considered to be acting directly for a foreign power, the Government’s view is that this will not always be the case, and taking this approach would increase the challenges of prosecuting state threats activity. That is why it is so important to keep a political party—which is a governing political party of a foreign Government—within the definition of foreign power, otherwise we may not capture all behaviour we are concerned about.
In the context of FIRS, which, as the House will know, the Government are proposing to scale back significantly in response to concerns raised by this House, registration will be required only where an individual or entity—I stress this, as it is important—is directed by a foreign power to influence elections, government decisions, proceedings of political parties and members of the UK legislatures.
I think the noble Baroness has received the letter I sent her today which sought to reassure her that the circumstances where parliamentarians will have to disclose their work with foreign political parties are likely to be narrow: only where a foreign power—including a foreign ruling party—is directing the parliamentarian to influence others.
My Lords, may I ask a question of clarification? I understand much more clearly what the noble Lord is saying: governing political parties are in effect acting as intermediaries for the state. However, certainly in the international relations which I have been engaged in over the last 40 years, many think tanks in other states also operate as intermediaries in that respect. In particular the Washington think tanks, which are very close to the Government, act as intermediaries, but foreign-funded ones in other democratic and non-democratic capitals often also do so. Should that not be included in the Bill for the same rationale that he has just given us on dominant political parties?
My Lords, ruling parties are the foreign power. As I have tried to be clear and have stressed twice now, registration will be required only where an individual or entity is directed by a foreign power—that is the condition. Therefore, if a think tank was being directed by a foreign power, the answer would be yes. If it was not, the answer would be no.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that an intermediary could be a conference-arranging organisation? If he is coming to that, I would be grateful.
I noted the noble Baroness’s questions about intermediaries, and I promise that I will address that.
I know that we have had some debate about what it means to be directed by a foreign power. I want to reassure all noble Lords that this is a high bar. The natural meaning of “direction” is an order or instruction to act. It is possible that such direction could be delivered in the language of a request but only where there is a power relationship between the person and the foreign power which adds an element of control or expectation to the request: for example, through a contract, payment, coercion or the promise of future compensation or favourable treatment. It is not enough for a foreign power to fund an activity, so generic requests, joint collaboration or simply an alignment of views, absent the power relationship, will not meet the test for direction.
I will quote directly from the letter I sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter—I apologise for not sharing it more broadly with the House but I was cleared to send it only this morning:
“In terms of what activity would be registrable, we consider that where a parliamentarian is to be directed by a foreign governing party, for example, being paid or on the promise of favourable treatment, to influence Government Ministers or fellow parliamentarians, this would require disclosure under FIRS.”
I will come back to my quote in a second. I digress briefly into the subject raised by my noble friend Lord Balfe and his quick canter through the Stiftungen of Germany. We are in touch with the German Government on this issue and are grateful for their constructive engagement. We do not consider that, for example, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung would constitute a foreign power under Clause 32 of the Bill. A person acting under the direction of such an institution would not be in scope of the foreign influence registration scheme. We will have another opportunity to debate these issues next Tuesday. Konrad Adenauer should be reassured that it is not covered.
I want to be clear that there is no requirement for the activity to cease, only for it to be transparent. In these circumstances, there is a strong national interest in greater openness on the influence of British politics by foreign powers. It should be clear not only to the Government, but to parliamentarians and to the public, where this influence is being brought to bear. FIRS seeks to address the gap, providing us all with more information about the scale and nature of foreign political influence in the UK.
I will answer the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, directly. In the example she described, the intermediary would have to register, if directed by a foreign power. The noble Baroness herself, or a foreign power, would not.
This is at the heart of it. If the German SPD engaged somebody to set up a stall at our party conference, they would be directed, be paying and have a contract for it. This would then have to be registered. I have seen the draft regulations which the Minister kindly sent me. They would have to disclose which MPs they had invited to the event and all of that. As the Minister has just said, as soon as the intermediary—the conference arrangements organisation—is paid by an outside political party to organise this, according to the form that I have been sent, we would have to fill in our names. We may not be the ones registering, but it would be wholly disclosable. It has nothing to do with the Government nor with national security. It is a party-to-party issue. It is simply because they have used an intermediary—a conference arrangements organisation or interpretation.
I think it is clear and that we agree on this. I am not asking that we should be able to bring it back at Third Reading, but I am asking the Minister to leave a little chink of light. Having thought about it, in consultation with his colleagues, the Government might be willing to look at whether this is really what they want to achieve.
I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. I am more than happy to continue engagement on this subject.
The final amendment in this group, concerning the definition of a foreign power, was initially tabled in Committee and has been retabled by the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Wallace. It seeks to exclude members of NATO and other nations, via regulations, from the definition of a foreign power. I want to put it on record that we do not consider all foreign powers to be hostile. When this amendment was initially tabled, I put forth that the National Security Bill focuses on the harmful conduct undertaken by a person and not the foreign power they seek to benefit. I continue to believe that this is the right approach.
The Government do not seek to create gaps in the legislation which could allow states to act through proxies and thus undermine what the Bill seeks to do—to take necessary and appropriate action against harmful activity. Again, no doubt to groans, I will bring your Lordships’ attention to the case of Daniel Houghton. He is the dual British-Dutch national who attempted to sell sensitive information to the Dutch intelligence service in 2010. If this amendment were to be accepted, and NATO states excluded from the definition of a foreign power, cases such as Daniel Houghton’s would not be captured by the offences and measures in the Bill. This would not be an appropriate outcome which could undermine the Bill. I believe that the Dutch came to us on this particular occasion and I commend them for it. I ask again that these amendments tabled by noble Lords be withdrawn.
I thought that I answered this when I talked about direction by a foreign power. If members of a political party are directed by a foreign power, they would be covered.
I am grateful to the Minister for his clear explanation. There remains a slight degree of uncertainty. Presumably the Government will issue guidance to be put in place before the scheme is operational. We raised this at our meeting with him.
I wonder whether, in advance of us considering FIRS next week, we could have more information about what the draft guidance will look like as part of the engagement that the Minister has committed to, which is welcome. We have seen some elements of the draft regulations and heard some explanations from the Government but, if he could expand on what the draft guidance might be, that would provide some reassurance to the Stiftungen and other organisations that are hurriedly trying to find out where they fit in this area around what a foreign power will be and the interaction with either intermediaries or those who are funded by them. It is hard to outline that in the Bill but, if the Minister could provide that information in advance of next week, it would inform us very well.
My Lords, before the Minister comes back, could either he or a representative of the Government talk to the German ambassador and clear up this difficulty because the Germans are quite convinced that they are caught by this? It would be good if he could come back here and say, “I’ve spoken to the German ambassador or the First Secretary and we have agreed this”. Otherwise, the confusion will carry on.
My Lords, I am not convinced by the Minister’s argument. That he has to go back to the single case of Daniel Houghton shows the weakness of the ground on which he stands. We recall that case, which involved a Dutch-British dual national who was uncovered by our allies, the Dutch, with whom, of course, we have a close intelligence relationship as well as a number of other things; it was therefore resolved. No such things have happened with a hostile foreign power. If we have to go back to that case, it simply shows that there is not very much evidence on which the Government can make this argument.
Many of us who know that this is an important Bill and wish it well are concerned about the unnecessary offence given to friendly Governments. The Minister has not assured us that all our friendly Governments have been consulted and are happy with this Bill. I hope that, in informal conversations between now and Third Reading, he—or at least one of his Foreign Office Ministers who actually talks to other Foreign Ministers—will be able to assure us that we will not treat all foreign powers or contact with them on a similar basis.
On that basis, I will not divide the House but I remark that I am unsatisfied with the Minister’s response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 73 withdrawn.
Amendments 74 and 75 not moved.
Clause 33: Foreign power threat activity and involvement in that activity