Clause 25 - Interim orders

Part of National Security and Investment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 8th December 2020.

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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 10:45 am, 8th December 2020

I turn to clauses 25 to 28, which I shall treat together, as they all relate to orders that the Secretary of State may make in relation to notifiable cases under the national security and investment regime. It is important that, during any national security assessment following a trigger event being called in, parties do not act in a way that undermines the assessment or any remedies that might be imposed at the end of it. Clause 25 therefore gives the Secretary of State the power to impose requirements for the purpose of preventing, reversing or mitigating actions that might pre-empt the regime through what is known as an interim order. In practice, this could include requiring that the parties do not complete a trigger event until a final decision has been issued, or, where the Secretary of State is concerned about access to sensitive intellectual property, an order could be used to prohibit the intellectual property from being transferred or shared pending the outcome of the assessment. The power is necessarily flexible to allow conditions to be tailored to particular cases and particular risks, although it rightly comes with important safeguards.

First, interim orders may be made only during the formal assessment period when a trigger event has already met the legal test to be called in for a full assessment. The Secretary of State may not, therefore, impose an interim order before he has called in a trigger event, which I hope hon. Members will agree is a significant bar to meet in and of itself. Secondly, the Secretary of State must reasonably consider that the provisions are necessary and proportionate for the purpose of preventing, reversing or mitigating a pre-emptive action. Any decision to make an order would be open to judicial review.

Thirdly, as an interim measure it is inherently time limited. In a particular case, there might be a reason why a requirement is not needed for the full duration of the assessment period. Consequently, a specific end date might be given in an order. Furthermore, unless an earlier date has been specified in the order, or the order has been revoked, an interim order will cease to have effect once the Secretary of State has given a final notification or made a final order decision.

The Bill also includes specific provisions for interim orders to be kept under review and for those subject to them to request that they be varied or revoked. That is provided for in clause 27. Without clause 25, it would be possible for a dangerous acquisition outside of the mandatory sectors to be completed before the Secretary of State has an opportunity to assess it properly. Indeed, the Government expect a genuinely determined hostile actor to seek to do just that.

Clause 26 provides for the Secretary of State either to put in place effective remedies to counter national security risks discovered during an assessment of a trigger event, or to clear a trigger event where no national security risk is found. The clause therefore provides for both final orders and final notifications, and subsection (1) requires the Secretary of State either to make a final order or to give a final notification before the end of the assessment period. Final notifications act as notice to parties that no further action is to be taken under the Bill in relation to the call-in notice.

Final orders seek to address any national security risks found during an assessment. Those will not be arbitrary and will be subject to a strict legal test. First, the Secretary of State must be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that a trigger event has taken place or is in progress or contemplation and that this would give rise to a national security risk if carried into effect. Secondly, the Secretary of State must reasonably consider that the provisions of the order are necessary and proportionate for the purpose of preventing remedy or mitigating the risk.

The permitted contents for final orders are set out in subsection (5). This includes the power to put certain conditions on a trigger event before it can proceed, or for it to remain in place. The subsection also gives the Secretary of State the power to block a trigger event or, where it has already taken place, require that to be unwound. I make it clear to hon. Members that such a course of action would be a last resort. In the nearly two decades since the Enterprise Act 2002 came into force, no Government of either colour has blocked a deal on national security grounds. However, it is still a necessary power to have. There might be some cases where a trigger event poses such an acute risk that it cannot be allowed to proceed in any form, and it would be irresponsible to leave our country unprotected.

Clause 27 provides important safeguards on the continued operation of interim orders and final orders. First, it requires the Secretary of State to keep interim and final orders under review to ensure that they are relevant and proportionate. Secondly, it empowers him to vary or revoke such orders. Thirdly, it compels him to consider any request to vary or revoke an order as soon as practicable after receiving such a request.