National Security and Investment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 8th December 2020.
With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 33 to 36 stand part.
It is important to ensure that we are able to enforce the regime. If hostile actors realise that there is a gap in enforcement capability, that could serve to undermine the deterrent effect of the regime, and therefore compliance with it, and could cause reputational damage to the United Kingdom’s screening regime. Clauses 32 to 36 focus on enforcement and appeal. I will run through them at a relatively high level, but I am happy to discuss them in more detail if that would be of interest to hon. Members.
Clause 32 establishes the offence of completing without reasonable excuse a notifiable acquisition without approval from the Secretary of State. Completing a notifiable acquisition without approval could put national security at risk. In particular, the risk that hostile actors might seek to immediately extract sensitive intellectual property and transport it to far-flung corners of the world, may already have crystallised. Intervention after the event in such circumstances would too often be irrelevant, as that could not undo the damage done to our national security. I am confident that hon. Members will agree that this offence reflects the severe consequences that might result from completing a notifiable acquisition without approval of the Secretary of State in one of the ways set out in clause 13.
Clause 33 makes it an offence for a person to breach an interim order or a final order without reasonable excuse. Under the regime, interim orders and final orders are the mechanisms whereby the Secretary of State imposes revenues for the purposes of safeguarding the assessment and process of national security respectively. They are, therefore, vital components of the legislation. Given that a breach of an interim order or a final order could undermine the assessment process or put national security at risk, it is right that breaches of such orders carry a clear deterrent. I am confident that hon. Members will agree that it is essential to have robust measures in place to ensure effective compliance with any interim orders or final orders imposed by the Secretary of State.
I will move on to clause 34. It is vital that parties comply with information notices and attendance notices, and that parties do not provide materially false or misleading information to the Secretary of State.
On how all this will be policed, the Minister is talking about an incredibly important issue that is crucial to the Bill, but it is a bit like the tax evasion problem, in that a tax evader can be prosecuted only when they have been caught. What policing measures are in place to get to the point of imposing sanctions on those who infringe the measure?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Part of it is the screening process and, obviously, the security agencies play a major role in that.
Under clause 35(2), it is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this clause to prove that they reasonably believe that the use or disclosure was lawful, or that the information had already and lawfully been made available to the public. I hope that hon. Members are reassured that Government are committed to the safeguarding of information collected by the regime.
Finally, clause 36 ensures that persons in authority in bodies—for example, a body corporate, such as a company, or an unincorporated body, such as a partnership—can be prosecuted under the legislation where they are responsible for an offence committed by their body. This clause therefore ensures that individuals who are responsible for offences committed by their bodies cannot simply hide behind those bodies and escape responsibility. Instead, they too will have committed an offence and can be punished for it. If you will forgive the pun, Sir Graham, if there are skeletons in the cupboard—or filing cabinets, I suppose—it is not just the bodies that can be held responsible. I hope hon. Members will agree that these clauses are both necessary and proportionate.
There is no guidance in my script on what I do if I do not forgive the pun.