Clause 2 - Further provision about call-in notices

National Security and Investment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 1st December 2020.

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Amendment proposed (this day): 10, in clause 2, page 2, line 12, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

“(1) No more than one call-in notice may be given in relation to each trigger event, unless material new information becomes available within five years of the initial trigger event

This amendment would enable the Secretary of State to issue multiple call-in notices if material new information becomes available.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Chair, Conservative Party 1922 Committee

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing clause stand part.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. As I was saying, after a trigger event is called in, the Secretary of State has 30 working days in which to carry out a full national security assessment, although that may be extended in certain circumstances. During that period, the Secretary of State may use his information-gathering powers under the Bill to gather from relevant parties any further information he requires to make a final decision. I can reassure hon. Members that the Secretary of State will make full use of these powers to fully assess every aspect of an acquisition.

Where, at the end of an assessment, the Secretary of State imposes remedies in relation to a trigger event, the Bill provides a power for him to amend those where appropriate. Such an amendment is really relevant only in cases where a trigger event is called in for scrutiny but ultimately cleared by the Secretary of State outright, without any remedies being imposed. In cases where false or misleading information is provided that materially affects the Secretary of State’s decision to clear a trigger event outright, he may revoke his decision and give a further call-in notice up to six months after the false or misleading information is discovered.

Adding further opportunities to call in a trigger event each time new material information becomes available after the Secretary of State has already had the opportunity to carry out full scrutiny of the trigger event would be disproportionate and give rise to unjustified uncertainty for the parties involved. The Government have been clear that this regime must provide a slicker route to investment by providing clarity and predictability for investors. Sadly, the proposed amendment would create uncertainty for businesses, with them unable to assess if and when the Secretary of State might call in their trigger event again, up to five years after the trigger event has been completed. That is why I am unable to accept the amendment. I hope that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test will agree with me and withdraw it.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Our amendment was genuinely intended to be helpful, to try to ensure that what we see as a loophole is closed. The Minister has indicated that, in his view, that loophole would be closed at the expense of uncertainty in company land, as it were—uncertainty for those companies that might be subject to this procedure.

The circumstances that would see this amendment put into action—I have outlined some possible circumstances—would be very rare; only circumstances in which things had changed very substantially, in terms of global interest in particular areas of our economy, or circumstances in which information that could have been supplied was not supplied, and not because there was an intention to be malicious or misleading, but because people did not get to the bottom of something first time around. In those circumstances, companies would perhaps anticipate that that change might happen, and certainly if there were substantial global changes in who was interested in what, then companies would also anticipate that to a considerable extent. I do not share the Minister’s view that the amendment would place companies in general in a state of uncertainty.

The additional assistance that the amendment would provide to make the process watertight should be taken seriously. However, I hear what the Minister has said and appreciate that a balance has to be achieved between different arrangements so that they are satisfactory both for national security and for company wellbeing and development—I am sorry that he has perhaps come down slightly further on one side than on the other in his appraisal of amendment 10. However, I appreciate what he has said and therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.