Clause 22 - False or misleading information

National Security and Investment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 8th December 2020.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

Clause 22 makes provision for circumstances in which false or misleading information is provided to the Secretary of State. Hon. Members will agree that a regime that protects our national security must take appropriate account of those who would wish to mislead us. It is not often that hostile actors offer up honest answers to difficult questions. In addition to the penalties that are provided for in clause 40 and elsewhere, the clause ensures that any decision that is taken on the basis of false or misleading information, and which is materially affected by the false or misleading information, may be reconsidered by the Secretary of State. Following reconsideration, the Secretary of State is then free to affirm, vary or revoke any such decision.

That may, for example, involve calling in a trigger event after an initial decision not to do so, if, for instance, it is discovered that false or misleading information was provided in the notification form. That might ultimately lead to remedies being imposed on the trigger event, including blocking or unwinding it where that is necessary and proportionate for the purpose of safeguarding national security. The Secretary of State is required under subsection (5) to give any call-in notice within six months of discovering that the information was false or misleading.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I thank the Minister for his comments on clause 22. This possibly shows a lack of understanding on my part, but could he say a little about how the Secretary of State will ascertain, decide or judge that information has been false or misleading?

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

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. The Secretary of State has a number of tools available to him, including our security and intelligence services. Of course, if the information is deemed to be false or misleading, he will be able to take appropriate action.

There is otherwise no time limit to revising a decision. The time limits under subsections (2) and (4) of clause 2 for calling in trigger events that have already taken place do not apply. We judge that this is an important signal to send. If people provide us with false or misleading information in relation to a trigger event, the Secretary of State may still call in the event for consideration whenever the false or misleading information comes to light, even if the event has long since completed. If truthful information is provided, the time limits in subsections (2) and (4) of clause 2 apply. If people provide us with the right information, they will have certainty. If they provide us with false or misleading information, we may revisit the trigger event whenever the false or misleading information comes to light.

Without the clause, parties could, in theory, deliberately provide false information to ease the passage of their trigger event. The Secretary of State would then be powerless to reopen the investigation into the event and impose national security remedies on it. I stress that I expect cases involving the provision of false or misleading information to be few and far between, but the Government must take steps to mitigate such risks.

Hon. Members may have some concern that the Secretary of State’s ability to reconsider previous decisions chips away at businesses’ confidence to invest. To those hon. Members, I say that the provision applies only to materially false or misleading information, and even if such information is provided unintentionally, it is essential that the Secretary of State has the power to consider the case one more. Moreover, it may be the case that false or misleading information is provided deliberately by a hostile actor. I hope hon. Members will agree that as well as providing slick and efficient processes for business, the Bill must not leave any loophole to be exploited.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.