Clause 56 - Duty of CMA to provide information and assistance

National Security and Investment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 10th 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 56 places a duty on the CMA to provide information and any other assistance to the Secretary of State to enable him to carry out his functions under the Bill. For this regime to function effectively, the Secretary of State needs access to the right information at the right time to make decisions with the fullest range of available evidence.

The Competition and Markets Authority, by virtue of its position as the market regulator, will naturally have access to information that could be relevant to the decisions made by the Secretary of State. Although in practice we would expect the CMA to be entirely willing to provide support to the regime, and we have worked closely with it in drafting the legislation, the clause ensures that there is no doubt in law about the duty placed on the CMA to provide any information in its possession or any other assistance in its power when directed to do so by the Secretary of State, so long as the information or assistance is reasonably required to facilitate the Secretary of State’s functions under the Bill.

I therefore anticipate that the power in the clause—mirroring section 105(5) of the Enterprise Act 2002—would, in practice, be used only rarely, given the Department’s good working relationship with the CMA. I hope the Committee will appreciate that the clause is quite simply about ensuring that the Secretary of State has access to pertinent information relevant to the decision-making process.

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)

I note that the Minister has used precisely the opposite argument that he used for the last clause, relating to the word “must”. In clause 56, the CMA “must” give the Secretary of State information. [Interruption.]

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton

Order. Can we have just one meeting, please?

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)

Even though the Minister has worked well with the CMA, as he has just said, and is assured that the relationship will work well, he has put it into legislation just to make sure that it does.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test has stolen my thunder—had I known that he was going to stand up, I perhaps would not have done so. It is interesting that paragraph (a) says “must” but paragraph (b) says “may”. Another valid point, beyond the semantics, is about the substance and the resource of the CMA, and whether there should be provision for that in the Bill. Can the Minister comment on the capacity of the CMA to support the demands and obligations set out in the clause?

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

I will say a few words to the clause—reflecting the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, in particular—because there seems to be a theme in the Bill. I know that the Minister believes that the Bill is beyond improvement, and that he is reluctant even to contemplate any changes, as he said in response to the hon. Member for Glenrothes, but he must recognise that a consistent theme seems to be that requirements, or “musts”, are placed on others and the discretion—the “may”, if you like—is with the Business Secretary. The Minister himself observed that we are keen to allow the Business Secretary the necessary discretion to fully protect our national security, but does he see not that that would better achieved by clearly circumscribing the Business Secretary’s actions?

I also support my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington in his recent contribution. Throughout this Bill, we need to ensure that the resources are there when placing requirements on bodies. I hope that the Minister can give such reassurances. On that basis, we recognise that the clause should stand part.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 56 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.