House of Commons
Wednesday 3 May 2023
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Science, Innovation and Technology
The Secretary of State was asked—
I am thrilled to answer today for the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, stepping in while my right hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) begins her maternity leave. May I also take a moment to wish my colleague, the Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) well? As a Department, we are keen to make maternity leave normal and successful, and it is vital that this House gives support to that.
Outstanding science and research is vital to me, to my right hon. Friend who has started her maternity leave and to the Prime Minister, so we are working hard on the UK’s involvement in Horizon Europe. We hope negotiations will be successful and that it is our preference. However, our participation must be on the basis of a good deal for UK researchers, businesses and taxpayers. If we are not able to associate on the right terms, we will implement our bold, ambitious alternative to Horizon—Pioneer.
I welcome the right hon. Lady to her place. Having the University of Hull in my patch, I know very well how important Horizon grants have been to the funding of research and scientific excellence. The Conservative party made a manifesto promise to secure association to Horizon Europe, which is the world’s biggest science funding and collaboration programme. How can universities and scientists plan for the future if that has not been sorted out yet?
The right hon. Lady’s question reflects exactly why we are working so hard to achieve that association. However, we need to accommodate the lasting impact of two years of European Union delays to the United Kingdom’s association. Senior scientists, such as Professor Boyle, the chair of the Universities UK relevant network, for example, acknowledge that our approach demonstrates how seriously this issue is being taken by all sides. They also agree that it is entirely appropriate that we have the alternative plan and that the sector can work together with the Government to achieve that.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her place.
We have the best scientists, universities and institutions in the world here in the UK. The best science comes from research collaboration. Our UK scientists want to collaborate, and the world wants to collaborate with us. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend reaffirm the Government’s commitment to rejoining Horizon and similar programmes?
As I have already said at this Dispatch Box, I can confirm that association is our preference. However, that must be on the basis of the right deal and a fair set of terms for UK taxpayers, researchers and all others involved. I also gladly confirm that in this Government we see a golden thread that goes from outstanding basic science through research to innovations that change people’s lives, sustain economic growth and create solutions to the challenges of the age.
Commercialisation of Research
Better commercialising our UK research is completely key to our global science superpower and domestic innovation nation missions, and a key component of our science and technology framework and this Department’s work. I am delighted to report that spin-outs from universities have gone up sixfold in the past nine years, to £2.5 billion last year, and in the life sciences sector that has gone up 1000% since we took office. We are creating jobs and opportunities for innovation clusters all around the UK, including in west London.
We have just heard about uncertainty about Horizon. In addition, there are no more European structural funds and under-investment in R&D. We are hurtling down the global rankings for clinical research trials. The Minister just mentioned life sciences, but last week Novartis, the Swiss pharma giant, pulled out of a major trial for cardiovascular drugs in this country for those very reasons. When will the Government admit that, rather than an example of confidence in the world-beating, post-Brexit life sciences sector that the ex-Health Secretary who went to the jungle claimed at the time it would be, that decision shows what an unmitigated disaster Brexit has been? When will they fix this mess?
Here we go—Labour talking Britain down again. The truth is that I am not at all complacent about the clinical trials numbers. At the Life Sciences Council, in the next few weeks, we will be setting out a very clear plan to reverse the decline since the pandemic in the NHS.
The hon. Lady might have mentioned the major investment coming into west London—her part of the world—including the MedTech SuperConnector, the spin-outs there and SynbiCITE, the synthetic biology hub. She might at least acknowledge the major investment —billions of pounds—from Moderna and BioNTech into this country, laying the foundation for a next phase of science innovation. With the life sciences sector, we are in a global race, but we are still leading in the technologies of tomorrow.
Can my hon. Friend comment on the Department’s 10-point science and technology framework, which will help provide the long-term funding needed to turn the start-ups he has mentioned into sustainable, successful, globally leading businesses?
I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a strong champion of that agenda. In the new Department’s science and technology framework we have set out a long-term, 10-year view of the serious reforms that we need to make to procurement, regulation and skills across the whole of Government if we are to drive our science superpower agenda. A fundamental part of that is converting the health of our start-up ecosystem into scale-ups. That is why the Treasury is leading on the re-regulation of pension funds—so that we can unlock some of our pension trillions and put it into supporting our companies to grow here rather than go to NASDAQ.
Life Sciences: Private Investment
The UK’s life sciences sector is key to creating highly skilled jobs across the UK and cementing the UK’s role as a science superpower, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, a doughty champion of life sciences, has just set out. We have a life sciences vision, which sets out our ambition to develop a globally competitive investment ecosystem in the UK, and we will bring forward further measures to support the sector in the coming weeks. A great example is the life sciences investment programme, a £200 million initiative that is expected to attract at least double that in private investment.
Post pandemic, there has been a significant advance in attracting new pharma to the United Kingdom. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the hugely significant partnership with Moderna as a sign of confidence in the United Kingdom? It will bring much-needed jobs and investment to the whole of the UK, and hopefully to Birmingham in particular.
Yes, I do of course join my hon. Friend in welcoming that investment. As he sets out, our goal is to ensure that the UK is the most attractive environment possible for life sciences investment, and we are doing a range of things to help achieve that. We can see exciting innovations coming into the UK as a result, including one I am very excited about that is due this year: greater personalisation in cancer drugs.
It is a delight to see the right hon. Lady in her new position. As a previous member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, at least she will know something about science.
I would like to believe the story that is being told about this country being a life sciences superpower, but I am sure the right hon. Lady will have noted the comments in January of Kate Bingham, the chair of the vaccine taskforce. She said that the lessons from that taskforce had not been learned, and that this country was falling behind. She gave evidence of AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline investing outside this country because civil servants had not learned those lessons and had created a hostile environment for such companies.
I can understand that point, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Kate Bingham for her past work on the vaccine taskforce. We have created the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology so that we can drive forward science, and life sciences as part of that, as a force for good. More on this agenda will be set out in the coming weeks, because we have the opportunity to continue to ensure the UK’s leadership on it. That is my priority and that of all of my team.
Commercialisation of Research: North-east England
Having worked on coalfield regeneration in the north-east, I am delighted to report that it is becoming a science and technology powerhouse economy in the UK. I have been up three times since taking on this role, particularly to see NETPark, the extraordinary north-east technology park, whose third phase of expansion has now been announced. We put £5 million into helping it grow, and world-class companies such as Kromek are now there. We have also put £5 million into the Northern Accelerator in collaboration with six north-east universities, and we have nine Catapult hubs in the north-east. Let us say it loud and clear: the north-east is building the new economy of tomorrow.
Led by Durham University, the Northern Accelerator has invested more than £100 million in partner university spin-outs in the past five years, bringing skilled jobs and opportunities to my constituents and across the region, but if the Minister is really serious about levelling up Durham, can he explain why the north-east receives just 4% of Research England’s budget and six times less money than London?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s leadership on this issue, because it is really important. Traditionally, our research funding follows excellence, and that is why, say, Northumbria University has shot up the league tables in the last few years from 42nd to 16th—it is knocking on the door of the Russell Group—and the northern universities are delivering increasingly excellent science. But there is something else. Last year there was £50 billion-worth of private investment in research and development, which is matching the public investment, and as we go to £20 billion of public R&D, a wave of private money will start to come into the north-east. The answer to her question is that this is about building the applied science into the industries of tomorrow, which the north-east is doing.
Yes, I absolutely agree. That is why we have put £1.9 billion into the Catapult network—our network for deep industrial collaboration with our universities. In the north-east, we have the offshore renewables Catapult in Blyth, the digital Catapult in Sunderland and the satellite applications Catapult in Durham. This is a deep investment in the north-east economy of tomorrow.
One of the companies based in NETPark is Pragmatic Semiconductor, which is innovating chip production. It has indicated that it would consider moving its operations overseas if the UK fails to produce a semiconductor strategy that funds and supports chip production. We have been asking for this strategy for years now, so can the Minister assure the House not only that the strategy is imminent and will be published very shortly, but that it will properly fund and support companies such as Pragmatic?
Yes. The Under-Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), has already met the company concerned, and in a matter of days we will be setting out the semiconductor strategy, which will answer exactly the question that the hon. Lady has raised.
Artificial Intelligence Technologies: Regulation
Artificial intelligence plays a vital role in our economy and society, from helping doctors to identify cancers faster to powering smart devices and driverless cars. We recognise the need to act not only to unlock the opportunities but to address the potential risks of this technology. Our White Paper articulates what the responsible development and use of AI should look like, supporting innovation while protecting people so that businesses, consumers and the wider economy can all benefit.
When advances in medical technology—around genetic engineering, for example—raise sensitive issues, we have debates on medical ethics, we adapt legislation and we put in place robust regulation and oversight. The explosion in AI potentially poses the same level of moral dilemma and is open to criminal use for fraud or impersonation and by malign players such as the Chinese Government, for example. As leaders in AI, what should the UK be doing to balance safety with opportunity and innovation?
I recognise the profound experience from which my hon. Friend speaks. We also recognise that many technologies can pose a risk when in the wrong hands. The UK is a global leader in AI, with a strategic advantage that places us at the forefront of these developments. Through UK leadership—at the OECD, the G7, the Council of Europe and more—we are promoting our vision for a global ecosystem that balances innovation and the use of AI, underpinned by our shared values of freedom, fairness and democracy. Our approach will be proportionate, pro-innovative and adaptable. Meanwhile, the integrated review refresh recognises the challenges that are posed by China.
With elections under way and a general election due next year, people are rightly concerned about the fake videos, images and audio being created by artificial intelligence. Can the Secretary of State confirm to the House what actions her Department is taking to protect the integrity of our democratic processes in that context?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s involvement, and I look forward to debating these issues with him and others across the House. I can understand his concerns and the anxiety that sits behind his question. We have a fully developed regime of electoral law that already accounts for election offences such as false statements by candidates, but in addition to the existing regulations we are setting out an approach on AI that will look to regulators in different sectors to apply the correct guidance. We will also add a central co-ordinating function that will be able to seek out risks and deal with them flexibly, appropriately and proportionately.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box. We can get a lot done in 10 weeks, in my experience, and I am sure she will do so.
At its best, Britain has been highly influential in setting international standards that combine confidence with security. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, that the UK should now seize the initiative and set out an international approach to standards in AI, so we can gain all the benefits that come from AI while making sure we do not suffer the harms attendant on it?
The short answer is yes. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s expertise, experience and encouragement as I begin my role. He is right that the UK has a global leadership position, and we rank in the global top three in many aspects of this question and others throughout science and technology. We will therefore seek a leadership role so any regulation of AI that may be needed reflects our values and strikes the correct balance.
One area in which our global leadership is a reality, not just rhetoric, is the creative industries. What assurance can the Government give to our music makers, writers and others that AI will be properly regulated to make sure their creative content is protected, and so we can maintain our global leadership?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, which comes from his deep expertise in music and the creative industries more generally. I look forward to my conversations with the industry on this very subject this afternoon. The UK has world-leading copyright and intellectual property protections, and we know how important they are for the continued success of the creative industries. We want to maintain them, and they will therefore be a focus as we take this work forward.
Science and Technology Sector: International Competitiveness
The Government published the science and technology framework in March 2023, setting out our approach to making the UK a science and technology superpower by 2030. This will increase the UK’s strategic advantage in relation to other nations. As part of that, we have a 10-point plan, having identified five critical technologies, including AI, semiconductors and quantum, which we will prioritise to deliver the framework’s ambition.
The Minister will know that I have written to the Department about the future of Syngenta in Bracknell. Berkshire is the Silicon Valley of the Thames valley, and it is important that we do everything possible to maximise investment and job creation. Will the Minister please agree to visit Syngenta with me, and to do what is necessary to ensure that this is not another GSK moment?
I acknowledge my hon. Friend’s work to encourage innovation, including at Syngenta. My colleague, the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, has already met Syngenta, and one of us will follow up with my hon. Friend to see what more we can do to support innovation in the Bracknell area.
We have a truly world-class nuclear skillset in Fylde, with Springfields being home to the country’s only nuclear fuel-manufacturing facility and the National Nuclear Laboratory, which last year made a significant breakthrough in developing lead-212, a cancer-fighting medical isotope. There are real opportunities not only to preserve but to build on that success. What conversations has my hon. Friend had with the Prime Minister and other Ministers about ensuring our domestic nuclear capability is the go-to choice for use in the UK and about maximising opportunities abroad?
My hon. Friend always champions industry and innovation in his area. We recognise the UK’s significant capabilities in the nuclear fuel cycle and the benefit this provides to our energy security and to realising export opportunities. Through the nuclear fuel fund, the Government are investing in Springfields and other parts of the supply chain to further expand essential capabilities so we can realise benefits for the UK and abroad. The £6 million medical radionuclide innovation programme will also develop capability in the production of radionuclides for medicine.
The life sciences sector is very exercised by the unintended but very high levy being paid to the Government for branded medicines in the NHS. The risk is that investment and jobs will go elsewhere, so what is the Secretary of State doing to make sure that that does not happen?
Biomedical sciences have been a success in my constituency, at Ulster University in Coleraine. Will the Minister undertake to ensure that that success is replicated and the United Kingdom becomes genuinely a world leader in biomedical sciences?
Broadband access is essential to UK competitiveness, yet Ofcom has revealed that just 220,000 of the 8 million households struggling to pay their internet bill have signed up to a discounted broadband package. When will the Government match Labour’s commitment to ensure that there is an industry-wide, mandatory and well-advertised social tariff for low-income families?
There has been a fourfold increase in people taking up social tariffs, but we know we have to do more to help people with the cost of living. That is why we lent in to the carriers in the first place and encouraged the introduction of social tariffs, but we will do more. We will work with the carriers to make sure that those tariffs get advertised well, so we can get better take-up.
For its first three months, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology has been harnessing the power of transformative science to grow a more innovative economy, with stronger businesses, better jobs and better lives for the British people. We have touched on AI and Pioneer. I can add that our £2.5 billion strategy for quantum tech will unlock its vast potential to the benefit of the British people.
As chair of the all-party group on crypto and digital assets, I have been hearing about the potential of blockchain technology for jobs of the future. It is important that these jobs are inclusive, so how will the Secretary of State ensure that people with disabilities, veterans and women have opportunities such as those to achieve their full potential?
I am delighted that the hon. Lady asked that question because, as she knows, I share her deep interest in the labour market and accessibility. I thank her for the work that her all-party group has done on the issue. This Government’s digital inclusion strategy has four principles: access; skills; motivation; and trust. They hold firm for blockchain and other technologies to ensure that no one is left behind.
Last year, during the Eurovision song contest, Russian agents attempted to interfere with the voting for Ukraine. This year, we are hosting the Eurovision song contest. What is the Department doing to ensure that the integrity of the voting will be maintained?
The Government are always aware that there are a number of possible threats to our systems and events. I am not able to discuss the details, but those at the National Cyber Security Centre are world experts at understanding attacks and providing an incident response for the most serious. We want to make sure that all organisations are aware, so we can keep that resilience in our voting process.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her position and wish the right hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) well in her maternity leave.
Three years on, the Tories have failed in their manifesto promise to associate to Horizon Europe, and Britain has paid the price in lost jobs and scientific research. Their plan B short-changes British scientists and they are fudging the figures in other ways. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, whereas Horizon funding was counted as international science spend, she is planning to count the same money as British science spend to meet her commitment to double the British science budget? [Interruption.]
I think I had better keep this brief. The answer, as the hon. Lady very well knows, is that we are hard at work negotiating our potential accession to Horizon. That is our preference, as I have made clear this morning. However, she is out of step with key voices in the sector. For example, the Russell Group says that our negotiations are a serious step forward and that the ambition of the proposals for Pioneer is welcome. More details will become clear as negotiations progress, but I cannot give a running commentary.
It seems that the Tory science superpower is actually just cooking the books. Ministers promised to increase science spend outside London and the south-east by a third while doubling it overall, so our regions continue to miss out. Now they are refusing to replace European regional development science funding, slashing £600 million from what should be our regional powerhouses. That is not levelling up—it is holding us back. The country knows it. Does the Secretary of State?
The hon. Lady is mischaracterising this very badly and in a way that does not help to command confidence in our shared mission to make science, innovation and technology the success that it needs to be for this country. She will have seen the presentation of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor at the Budget, which made it clear just how seriously we take science in this country, and that level of ambition will continue.
Last month, Sir Patrick Vallance stepped down as the Government’s chief scientific adviser after five years in the role, in which Government investment in science has doubled. Most of all, he became a household name through his handling of covid and the leadership that he showed then. Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking Sir Patrick for all his service to the country and in welcoming his successor, Dame Angela McLean, and wishing her all the best in the role?
May I, as Science Minister on behalf of the Government, pay tribute to Sir Patrick and thank Dame Angela for taking on the role? Sir Patrick has been a stalwart servant for science and for this country during difficult times.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I know that the House will join the nation and the Commonwealth in sending our very best wishes to Their Majesties, the King and Queen, ahead of the coronation. This will be a moment of extraordinary national pride, a demonstration of our country’s character and an opportunity to look to the future in the spirit of service, unity and hope.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
At Question Time last week, in column 725, the Prime Minister referred to
“record numbers of people in work”.—[Official Report, 26 April 2023; Vol. 731, c. 725.]
In fact, as he knows, the number of people in work at the moment is still less than it was just before the pandemic—122,792 less, according to the latest official figures. Will he reassure the House that he is not slipping into the bad ways of his predecessor but one, and will he properly correct the incorrect statement that he made last week?
We expect all businesses to follow the law, including providing fair pay and working conditions for their employees. We are tackling exploitation in the labour market, especially by increasing funding for enforcement bodies to more than £35 million a year, and we will continue to keep the position of hand car washes under close review.
I join the Prime Minister in his comments about the coronation. Across the House, we are all looking forward to the celebrations this weekend.
Does the Prime Minister know how many mortgage payers are paying higher rates since the Tory party crashed the economy last autumn?
Our record on home ownership is crystal clear. Because of our tax cuts, 90% of first-time buyers now do not pay any stamp duty at all. Last year, we saw the largest number of people buying their first home in 20 years. That is a Conservative Government delivering on people’s aspirations to own their own home.
The question was how many people are paying more on their mortgages each month, and the answer that the Prime Minister avoided giving is 850,000. Nearly 1 million people are paying more on their mortgage each month because his party used their money as a casino chip. That is why George Osborne called them economic “vandals” who created a “self-inflicted financial crisis”—not for the Prime Minister and his “non-dom thing”, not for the super-wealthy that the Conservatives gave tax cuts to, but for mortgage holders all across the country. Does the Prime Minister know how many more people will be joining them on higher mortgage rates by the end of this year?
Thanks to the actions we are taking, the Bank of England is showing that public expectations of inflation have now eased to a 15-month low. Consumer confidence is at the highest level since Russia invaded Ukraine and, because of our stewardship of the public finances, we can see a clear way to reduce debt and bring interest rates down. The right hon. and learned Gentleman keeps up his habit of quoting former Chancellors. We know that our plans will deliver lower inflation and lower interest rates, but we know that his plans just mean more debt, “year after year after year”. Those are not my words, but the assessment of the former Labour shadow Chancellor.
The question was how many more people this year will be paying more on their mortgages. The answer, which the Prime Minister again avoided giving—he knows these answers; he has the stats there in front of him—is 930,000 people. I know they do not want to talk about it—that is why he will not answer the questions—but by the end of this year, nearly 2 million homeowners will be counting the cost of the Tories’ economic vandalism with every mortgage payment they make.
It is not just those who already own their home who are counting the cost of Tory recklessness. The average deposit for a first-time buyer is going up to £9,000. Does the Prime Minister even know how long it will take an average saver to put that sort of money aside?
That is why we have introduced a 95% mortgage guarantee scheme. It is why we are helping people in social housing to own their own home through our first homes and shared ownership schemes. Those things are working. As I said, last year we had a record number of first-time buyers, the highest number in 20 years. That was twice the number of first-time buyers that Labour ever managed. While Labour failed homeowners, the Conservatives are delivering for them.
Every week, whatever the topic, the Prime Minister stands there and pretends everything is fine across the country, and every week that he does so, he reinforces just how out of touch he is, because £9,000—[Laughter.] It is not “Ha, ha!”—would take four years. The Conservatives think it is funny that it would take four years for the average saver to save £9,000. To put it a different way, in terms the Prime Minister will understand, it is roughly the annual bill to heat his swimming pool. But for most people, four more years of scrimping is a hammer-blow to their ambitions. Now he is kicking them when they are down, because his decision to scrap housing targets is killing the dream of home ownership for a generation. Why does he not admit he got it wrong and reverse it?
I promised to put local people in control of new housing, and I am proud that that is what I delivered within six weeks of becoming Prime Minister. The right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to impose top-down housing targets, concrete over the green belt and ride roughshod over local communities. Previously, he is on record as saying that local people and communities should have more power and more control. Now he has U-turned—just another in a long list of broken promises.
The only power the Prime Minister has given to local communities is not to build houses. We know why he will not change course; he admitted it last month: his councillors simply do not want to build the houses that local people need, so he has given them a way out. Picture the scene as he explains this to a family: mum and dad paying four grand extra on the mortgage because the Tories tanked the economy; their eldest paying hundreds more in rent; their youngest still stuck in the spare room because they need an extra £9,000 for a deposit. Then along comes the Prime Minister, who merrily tells them, “Sorry for crashing the economy—but we don’t want to talk about that. Sorry I can’t help you through house building, but my councillors do not like it. Oh, and before I go, here is a massive council tax increase for your troubles.” Why does he not stop the excuses, stop blaming everyone else, and just build some houses instead?
Our memories are not that short. We all know what happened when Labour was last in power: there was “no money left” for the country. Let us talk about the Labour record on house building. In London, the former Conservative Mayor built 60,000 affordable homes in his first five years in office. How many has the current Labour Mayor managed? Half of that. In Wales, we need 12,000 new homes a year. How many has Labour built in the last year? Half of that. As ever, Labour talks and the Conservatives deliver.
With debt doubled since 2010, growth down, tax up, the economy crashed, the Government are going to need a bigger note.
It is right that, week after week, we debate the issues in this place, but looking beyond the elections tomorrow, we also have a hugely significant weekend coming up, with the King’s coronation. For most, it will be the first time that they have seen a monarch crowned. I hope, as will Members across the House, that people across the country enjoy the ceremony, the street parties and, of course, the extra day off. Some 300 million people will tune in. The world will see our country at its best, celebrating the beginning of a new chapter in our history. But it will also be a reminder of the loss of our late Queen, Elizabeth II, and another chance to remember all that she gave our country through her dedicated service. Will the Prime Minister join me in honouring our late Queen and wishing the new King a long and happy reign?
As I said at the outset, we are all very much looking forward to the coronation. It will be a very special moment in the history of our country, and I know that we will join the country in celebrating it. But before we get to the coronation weekend, we have an important day tomorrow. The choice before the country is clear: when they go to the ballot box, they can see a party that stands for higher council tax, higher crime and a litany of broken promises; meanwhile, we are getting on with delivering on what we say, with lower council tax, lower crime and fewer potholes. The choice is clear: vote Conservative.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is typical Labour: saying one thing and doing the other. It is only the Conservatives who will protect the green belt; the Labour party will concrete over it. That is why, in Kirklees and elsewhere, people should vote Conservative tomorrow.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question. It is hard to keep up with the list of broken promises, but on tuition fees I will say that under this Government, a record number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university. That is because of the efforts we have made to put more money into supporting those people and communities to fulfil their aspirations, alongside fantastic new apprenticeships in every part of our country.
For the avoidance of any doubt, the Liberal Democrats do not believe in abolishing tuition fees, the Conservatives do not believe in abolishing tuition fees, and of course the Labour party, now having its own Nick Clegg moment, does not believe in abolishing tuition fees either. Is it not the case that the main Westminster parties do not offer young people any hope at all?
My hon. Friend is right. It is a simple statement of fact: crime is lower in areas that have Conservative police and crime commissioners. I am delighted that Dorset has been selected as one of the areas to pilot our new immediate justice scheme, which will deliver swift and visible punishment, so that victims of antisocial behaviour know it will be treated seriously and with all urgency.
This Government’s vile and immoral refugee ban Bill and the toxic language coming from the Home Office are not even dog-whistle politics; they are a giant hard-right foghorn, blasting out a poisonous “them and us” narrative. The Government plumbed new depths last week when the Minister for Immigration claimed that people trying to come to the UK
“tend to have completely different…values to those in the UK”.
Can the Prime Minister explain what he thinks is so different about the values held by the people of war-torn Sudan, and what values are preventing him from creating a Sudanese family visa scheme, like he did for the people of Ukraine?
This country has a proud history of welcoming almost half a million refugees over the past several years, and we will always continue to do so, but our ability to do that is absolutely hampered when we have tens of thousands of people illegally crossing the channel every year. It is precisely because we want to help the most vulnerable people, whether they be in Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan or elsewhere, that we must get a grip of the problem, break the cycle of the criminal gangs, and target our resources and compassion on those who most need them.
I agree with my hon. Friend and I am so glad to see the local Conservatives delivering for the people of Solihull, with dozens of new family homes, new flexible commercial space and a new integrated health, social care and community hub. As he says, it is clear that for his local area, only the Conservatives can deliver.
I share my hon. Friend’s disappointment that after a decision taken by the Labour-run council behind closed doors, there will no longer be a Christmas market in Lincoln, ending its 40 years of history. Lincoln deserves better, and I urge the people of the city to vote Conservative.
Mr Speaker, 98% of people already possess a suitable form of voter ID, and the Government made available free alternative ID for those who do not have it. The pilots have demonstrated that it has not significantly impacted turnout, and indeed, this was a policy that was introduced by the Labour party in Northern Ireland all those years ago. It is common in European countries, it is common in Canada, and it is absolutely right that we introduce it here too.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is always the same with Liberal Democrats, saying one thing and doing the other—we have all seen it. It is the Conservatives that are the party of local decisions taken by local people, and it is only the Conservatives that will protect the green belt.
I am sorry to hear what happened to the hon. Lady’s constituent. That is why the NHS has recently reformed dental contracts to improve access. We now invest more than £3 billion a year, and there are more than 500 more dentists working in the NHS this year than last year. Discussions are ongoing between the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS around dentistry, and DHSC is planning to outline further reform measures in the near future.
Every single young person who gets on the housing ladder under a Conservative Government makes our communities more sustainable. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in order to build the right type of housing and speed it up, we need to fund planning authorities properly through innovative funding?
My hon. Friend, as ever, makes an excellent point. That is why the reforms that we introduce will provide incremental resources to planning authorities to make sure that planning decisions can be taken quicker. Also, we have strengthened the ability of local communities to put in place local plans. That is the best way for our towns, cities and villages to have control over development in their area and to make sure that it happens in the way they are comfortable with, and I know he is supportive of that too.
Because of the actions we have taken, a typical family, including those like Izzy’s, will be seeing half of their energy bills paid for by the Government. That support is worth £1,500, and it was extended in the most recent Budget. For the most vulnerable in our society, there is additional support, with £900 for those on welfare. Through the holiday activities and food programme, there is support for families with costs and food during the holidays. What I would say to Izzy and others who are in particular need is that they should talk to their council, because the Chancellor has provided more than £1 billion of funding to the household support fund. It is there to help families like that who need a little bit of extra assistance during this time.
As my right hon. Friend will be aware, today is World Press Freedom Day. At a time when the need for professional and factual journalism has never been greater, will he reaffirm the Government’s commitment to defending media freedom worldwide? Will he redouble the efforts of the Government to obtain the release of Evan Gershkovich and Vladimir Kara-Murza in Russia, and of Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong?
The Government are committed to defending media freedom worldwide, because thriving independent journalism is one of the cornerstones of democracy. We absolutely condemn the politically motivated sentencing of journalists across the world, and our embassies and missions work every day to protect media freedom where they are based. I know that my right hon. Friend has been a right champion of that throughout his career, and I look forward to his continuing to champion it from a different perch, as I take rather fewer questions from him over the next few months from this position.
As we saw last week, there is now a record number of police officers across the country thanks to the actions of this Government, and crime is 50% lower than it was when we took office. The hon. Lady talks about investing in the north-east. When we invested £20 million of the levelling-up fund in her constituency, she said it was “transformational”. She said it would play
“an important role in rejuvenating”
her local area. That is this Conservative Government delivering not just for the north- east, but for her constituents too.
I was pleased to welcome the Secretary of State for Transport to Newsham recently to see the progress on the Northumberland line. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this Conservative Government—this Conservative Government only—are committed to the development of that line, keeping levelling up on track?
My hon. Friend has been a fantastic champion for the restoration of the line. Indeed, it was one of the first deliveries from the restoring your railways fund. It will be fantastic for his local communities because that connectivity will provide jobs, opportunity and employment, particularly for young people in his local area. After years, if not decades, of neglect, it is this Conservative Government who are delivering for the people in his local area.
As asbestos awareness month comes to a close, I draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the dangers of asbestos in workplace buildings. Please will he back the “Don’t Let the Dust Settle” campaign from the Mesothelioma UK charity in my constituency by setting up a register of all workplaces in the country that contain asbestos and determine a timetable for the eradication of this terrible substance?
May I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue? The law does require duty holders to assess whether asbestos is present, what condition it is in and whether it gives rise to a risk of exposure, and they must draw up a plan to manage that risk, which must include removal if it cannot be safely managed where it is located, but I commend her for her continued campaigning on this important issue.
It was just last week that it was clear that only one party will protect the environment, and that is the Conservative party. That is why we have given the Environment Agency more powers of enforcement, that is why we are moving to unlimited fines, and that is why we have a clear plan to increase investment and increase monitoring of sewage overflows. It was the rank cynicism and hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats that they could not even show up to support those plans.
Newton Abbot constituents face hosepipe bans after torrential spring storms, and they are asking me why water catchment plans have not prevented this. Reservoirs, desalination plants and other natural catchment structures require siting where geography and geology allow. Is there a national strategy and implementation plan to increase water catchment and enable cross-water company water transfer to match regional demand to supply?
Water companies publish water resources management plans, which show how they will continue to provide a secure supply of water for customers. I understand that they have been consulting on their latest drafts of those plans. In my hon. Friend’s area of Devon and Cornwall, where temporary use bans are in place, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the water regulators are working closely with South West Water to ensure that the company is taking all appropriate precautionary action to ensure that water supplies remain resilient this year.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I get what time of year it is, and we all know the game, but sticking to the courtesies of this place outside the Chamber is important. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) has appeared in my patch twice over the last two days, without giving me any notice. I made her aware yesterday of my intention to raise this point of order. She has not even deigned to respond to that in any way, shape or form, and I forwarded that notification to your office this morning. Mr Speaker, I anticipate what your response will probably be, and I appreciate that, but for the courtesy of Members of the House, will you restate the expectation of Members when they attend other constituencies in their capacity as Members of Parliament? We are a very welcoming place, but we want to make sure that everyone plays by the rules.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his point of order. The booklet “Rules of behaviour and courtesies in the House of Commons” makes clear that Members should make “all reasonable efforts” to notify colleagues if they intend to visit constituencies, except on purely private visits. I have said that time and again to Members across the House. I know it is fever time at the moment, but please, they should show the respect that each Member is due by letting them know when a visit is taking place.
Okay, he inadvertently or unintentionally misled the House last week. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has inadvertently misled the House this week when he claimed that the former Tory Prime Minister built more houses than the current Labour Mayor. Official statistics are not open to interpretation. Last year, the number of new homes in London was up 22% compared with the Tory Mayor’s final year. More than 23,000 new City Hall-funded council homes have been started since 2018, with more than 10,000 in the last year alone. Latest figures show that London started more than double the number of council homes last year than the whole of the rest of England, and Sadiq, the Labour Mayor of London, has delivered more than 10 times the number of the previous Tory Mayor—[Interruption.]
Please, I think I have got the message and I need to reply—[Interruption.] No, let me reply; it might be helpful to us all. I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving notice of her point of order. She will know that the Chair is not responsible for a Minister’s answers. If an error has been made, it should be corrected—I make that very clear. It is not for the Speaker to determine whether an error has been made, but the hon. Member has, quite rightly, given us a fruitful line that has ensured that the point has been made correctly. I will therefore move on to the next point of order.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Forgive my eagerness as I have never done this before, but today at Prime Minister’s questions I believe the Prime Minister inadvertently and unintentionally misled the House on the question of disadvantaged children in Scotland going to universities. The figures he used are simply the UCAS applications directly from school, but in Scotland, as I well know as a former further education lecturer, most disadvantaged children and adults go through the college route, whereby they can do a higher national certificate or higher national diploma, moving to first, second or third year of a university course, or join an access to higher education course at any time.
It is exactly as I said to the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler). I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving notice of her point of order, but I am not the one who makes such a determination. I say again that if an error has been made, I expect it to be corrected. The point is certainly now on the record.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister used a figure for crime that did not include fraud, even though that is the fastest-increasing crime and has been one of the most prevalent and damaging crimes. He has been repeatedly challenged on this but again used the figure without fraud, and he did so on the day on which he is supposedly launching a fraud strategy. Does that not show that the Government’s fraud strategy is actually a total fraud and a con? Do you think that the Prime Minister will be ready to correct the record?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you very much for allowing me to correct the record. The fact is, we were not counting fraud in 2010 when we took over the Government, so it is difficult to draw comparisons from before. What we have seen since, though, is a record number of police officers who are solving crimes. We have seen car crime down 22% since 2019, and neighbourhood crime and community crime down 50%. This is a success for the Government.
Greater London Authority Act 1999 (Amendment)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to give the Secretary of State power to review and overturn decisions made by the Mayor of London relating to transport and to air quality; and for connected purposes.
In my 18 years as MP for Chipping Barnet—I cannot believe it is so long—almost nothing has provoked such strong opposition as the Mayor of London’s plan to expand the ultra low emission zone. It comes up on almost every doorstep and at almost every meeting. People stop me in the street to tell me how strongly they feel about it, and over 50,000 have signed the Conservative petition. That is why I am bringing forward a Bill to give the Government power to overrule Mayor Khan and stop ULEZ expansion.
Of course, we need to continue to improve air quality in London, but this is the wrong scheme at the wrong time. The Mayor’s own integrated impact assessment concluded that ULEZ expansion is likely to have only a minor or negligible beneficial impact on air pollution, so it is completely unacceptable for a £12.50 a day charge to be levied on my constituents who are already grappling with the worst cost of living pressures for many years.
ULEZ has been tolerated in inner London because it has one of the most extensive public transport systems in the world. That is just not the case in the suburbs. In Barnet, and in other outer London boroughs, many of us depend on our cars for millions of journeys every year. For many of us, the nearest train or tube station is well beyond walking distance. The claim that the Mayor’s new orbital bus route, which, I would add, barely makes it into my constituency, can provide a viable alternative to suburban car travel is simply risible. The Mayor has already withdrawn vital bus services such as the 384 from certain streets and he is doing nothing to restore the cancelled 84 route. The reality is that ULEZ expansion to the Greater London boundary leaves my constituents facing the cost of buying a new vehicle, which many cannot afford, or paying an annual bill that could reach as much as £4,500 a year just to get about their own neighbourhood.
The scheme could devastate our local town centres in outer London as their regular customers stop coming because of the paywall that Mayor Khan is constructing around our capital. Small businesses will be hit hard. Many are already struggling to find compliant vans that are affordable. The Mayor’s grace periods, exemptions and scrappage scheme are narrowly drawn and frankly barely touch the sides of tackling the problem. Even those who do qualify find that the payments do not meet anything like the whole cost of a new vehicle.
Let us take the example of an emergency worker doing a night shift: they face the double whammy of a charge to travel to work and another after midnight to return home, meaning £25 just to do a shift. ULEZ expansion will mean that public services in outer London, especially the care sector, find it even harder to hire the staff they need, since so many of the current workforce live outside London and drive in.
Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency data indicates that there are over 690,000 non-compliant cars registered in London. That rises to over 850,000 when we count all vehicle types. The number will be higher still when we take into account people whose work or daily life means they need to come into London from neighbouring counties. And of course, they have no vote in a mayoral election—taxation without representation in a particularly blatant form.
Along with my constituents, residents across the London suburbs and bordering counties will be paying the price for Sadiq Khan’s wholesale mismanagement of Transport for London’s finances. He has been given a £6 billion bail-out by the Government and yet still, even with that, he wants to squeeze people for more charges and more fines, cynically disguised as air quality measures. We in this House have to be aware that if the Mayor is allowed to push this scheme through, it is only a matter of time before he hikes up the daily charge and imposes it on an ever wider range of vehicles as a stepping stone to the pay-per-mile road charging he would like to inflict on every single driver in London. That is why we need to stop ULEZ expansion now.
But ULEZ is not the only scheme that the Bill could give Ministers the power to review and potentially overturn: there are also streets shut off by low traffic neighbourhoods; road space lost to poorly designed and wrongly sited cycle lanes; inexplicable and seemingly pointless pavement extensions; and 20 mph limits on wide main roads. A range of policies are now being pursued that are manifestly and disproportionately anti-car. Some are led by the boroughs, but they all have the enthusiastic backing of the Mayor and many are funded by TfL. Schemes of this kind can be appropriate in the right setting and following meaningful consultation, but the Mayor of London just seems intent on making our capital city harder to get around. It feels like parts of London are being turned into a hostile environment for cars, vans and taxis. That damages productivity, prosperity and quality of life.
I support measures to make cycling easier and safer, but why remove swathes of road space in Park Lane for a segregated cycle lane when there is already a far more pleasant cycle lane through Hyde Park right next to the road? And why did it take two years of massive congestion on Euston Road for the Mayor to accept that his cycle lane there was a disaster and remove it? Why ban licensed taxis from Bishopsgate, one of our most important transport arteries since the Roman era? There seems to be no logic in the imposition of the 20 mph limits on major arterial routes such as Finchley Road and Park Lane, unless it is to soak drivers for the 1 million speeding fines that the Mayor is urging the police to issue. Add to that the Mayor of London’s attempt to build over station car parks and his increasing pressure in the planning system for so-called car-free developments to be built, and we have what looks like an ideological anti-car approach. Of course, there is merit in schemes that support a switch to cycling, walking and public transport, but the focus should be on improving services, not piling on new charges or arbitrarily removing chunks of our road network capacity.
There are also serious equality concerns. For many who are elderly or those who have reduced mobility, such as parents with young children, cycling may not be a practical option. The concerted push to restrict car and taxi access to road space harms those groups and can also have a negative impact on women’s safety, because they force more women to walk home after dark.
In conclusion, I find it hard to believe that I have to restate this, but the car is a force for good in the world. Huge progress has been made in recent years in improving road safety and reducing emissions. Without cars, vans, lorries and taxis, our transport system would grind to a halt and our economy and our society would be paralysed. Cars help us live our lives in the way we want to. They keep us connected to friends and family. They make possible so much of what we enjoy; so much of what makes life worth living would be difficult or impossible without the freedom that driving allows us.
It is time for a reset. It is time to lift the stigma increasingly attached to driving. It is time to scrap anti-car ideology. It is most definitely time to stop ULEZ expansion and elect a Conservative Mayor of London.
Question put and agreed to.
That Theresa Villiers, Bob Blackman, Sir David Evennett, Sir Robert Neill, Bob Stewart, Elliot Colburn, Gareth Bacon, David Simmonds, Mr Louie French, Stephen Hammond, Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Mr Gagan Mohindra present the Bill.
Theresa Villiers accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 302).
National Security Bill (Programme) (No. 3)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the National Security Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 6 June 2022 (National Security Bill: Programme) as varied by the Order of 22 September 2022 (National Security Bill: Programme (No. 2)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement.
(2) The Lords Amendments shall be considered in the following order: 26, 153, 22, 122, 1 to 21, 23 to 25, 27 to 121, 123 to 152, 154 to 174.
(3) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
(4) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Steve Double.)
Question agreed to.
National Security Bill
Consideration of Lords amendments
King’s and Prince of Wales’s consent signified.
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 33 and 34. If they are agreed to, I will cause the customary entry waiving Commons financial privilege to be entered in the Journal.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 26, and amendment (c) and Government amendment (b).
Lords amendment 153, and Government amendment (a).
Lords amendment 22, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 122, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 1 to 21, 23 to 25, 27 to 121, 123 to 152 and 154 to 174.
Let me start on a personal note by thanking the Clerk who is sitting in his place and congratulating him on becoming Clerk of the House. It is the first time that he has been in his place when I have spoken from the Despatch Box. He has been a friend for many years, so I am glad to have the opportunity to put on record that the Clerks keep us all on the straight and narrow, and in some cases get us out of rather a lot of trouble. I thank them very much indeed.
It is a pleasure to bring the National Security Bill back to this House. A number of changes have been made in the other place to improve it. The House will know the importance of the Bill: it gives our intelligence and security services, as well as law enforcement, a new toolkit to tackle state actors who threaten the safety and security of the United Kingdom. It also takes steps to prevent public funds from being given to those who could use them to support terror. As always, this Government have listened. I pay tribute to Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile for their work to improve the Bill—[Interruption.] I am glad to hear the acknowledgement from the Opposition Benches. That has improved the Bill for all sides.
We have heard the views of the other place, of industry and of many others, and we have focused the foreign influence registration scheme into a more targeted weapon against those who would do us harm. Arrangements to carry out political influence activity will now be registerable only when directed by a foreign power. Receiving funding from a foreign power, absent a direction, will not trigger a requirement to register under the scheme. For example, cultural institutes that make an important contribution to life in the United Kingdom will not be required to register simply because they receive funding from a foreign power. That is in line with the original intention of the scheme.
Only where organisations or individuals are directed by a foreign power to carry out political activities will that arrangement need to be routinely registered. We will publish guidance to support understanding of the scheme and circumstances in which arrangements will need to be registered. It remains the case that criminal offences will be attached to failures to register.
The Government made a number of changes in the other place following concerns expressed about the Bill’s potential impact on journalistic freedoms and other legitimate activity. I pay enormous tribute to Lord Black for his contribution to the debate. The Government are clear that the Bill’s focus is on protecting the United Kingdom from threats from those acting against the UK’s interests, not interfering with press freedom. The Lords amendments clarify the scope of offences and requirements in part 1. That includes amending the language in the phrase
“knows, or ought reasonably to know”
to put beyond doubt that it would need to be proved what an individual knew rather than capturing individuals acting unwittingly. That applies in every instance when the phrase appears in the Bill, including in the foreign power condition.
Further drafting changes have been made, including to clarify the scope of the offence of assisting a foreign intelligence service and the meaning of foreign power threat activity.
Does the Minister agree that we must exclude assistance in torture from the scope of defence, to protect people such as my constituent Jagtar Singh Johal, who was repeatedly electrocuted and threatened with being set alight by the Government of India?
The hon. Member will know that that is a matter for the Foreign Office in its dealings with other states. The Bill does not in any way erode any of the protections under the European convention on human rights, including the right not to be tortured.
We are pleased that the chief executive officer of the News Media Association Owen Meredith said in response to the Government’s changes that he welcomed
“the government’s reassurances that journalism will not be criminalised under this new national security regime.”
That is absolutely correct. It will not be, and it is not the Government’s intention that it should be. The media sector recognises the balance that the Government have struck between protecting press freedoms and safeguarding national security.
We have also taken on board the concerns of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, which I thank for the incredibly constructive and supportive manner in which it has engaged on the Bill. In response, the Government have changed the Serious Crime Act 2007 amendment from non-application of the offences to a defence. We believe that the amendment strikes the right balance. It ensures that the dedicated individuals in the intelligence and security services can carry out activities to support our foreign partners, but that there can be proper legal consideration of any potential wrongdoing.
The Bill is now in a strong position. We have effective tools and powers to tackle hostile activity on British soil or that is against the UK’s interest, done for or on behalf of, or with the intention to benefit, foreign states. We have a thorough transparency scheme designed to ensure that we know who is influencing our politics. Under the enhanced tier of the foreign influence registration scheme, we have the ability to specify states and entities and thereby require the registration of activities to protect the safety or interests of the United Kingdom. We also have the means to prevent the exploitation of the UK’s civil legal aid and civil damage systems by convicted terrorists.
I have raised on a number of occasions in debates and Committees the use of cryptocurrencies, and cryptocurrency mixers in particular, to facilitate the activities of hostile state-sponsored activities in a number of countries. The US Treasury acted against a number of the so-called mixers back in August last year. Despite raising that on a number of occasions, I am yet to receive clarification on what we are doing to ensure that cryptocurrency is not used to facilitate hostile state activities, as has been done in sums of billions.
The hon. Gentleman, who is a friend, is right to highlight this issue as it is true that cryptocurrency can be used in such ways. I urge him to look at the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, which we are taking through the House. Naturally, the National Security Bill does not cover every element that we are using to ensure the protection of the United Kingdom; there are many other Bills, which work together as a woven fabric of defence. Cryptocurrency is one aspect of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, which my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) is leading on. That Bill is making its way through the House and will address some of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.
Turning to amendments 22 and 122, the Government have set out clear reasons why we will not accept either amendment. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis) will be making an intervention about this later in the debate. We have set out the reasons why we will not accept the amendments, which were made clear in the other place.
Amendment 22 would introduce a requirement for political parties to
“publish a policy statement to ensure the identification of donations from a foreign power”.
Upon receipt of a donation, political parties are already required by law to verify whether they are or are not from a political source. Donations that do not meet the permissibility tests or are unidentifiable must be returned and reported to the Electoral Commission. If political parties fail to do that, their treasurers face being sent to jail. They risk the reputations of their staff and their elected representatives being shredded. There is already a strong incentive for parties to ensure that donations come only from permissible donors.
But earlier the Minister was praying in aid Lord Carlile, saying what a wonderful job he had done in helping the Government to bring forward wonderful amendments. This is one of his amendments, so it seems a bit odd to turn against this one.
On the point the Minister just made about permissible donors, all that has to be checked is whether the person is on the electoral register. The Elections Act 2022 has added to the register 3.5 million people who do not even live in this country. All that political parties presently have to do is check whether somebody is on the electoral register. I do not think that safeguards our elections from interference from those who would wish us ill.
The hon. Member has formerly been very kind about the work that we have done together, such as on the Foreign Affairs Committee and on other appointments. He has agreed with me on some areas and disagreed on others. It cannot be an enormous surprise to him that I agree with Lord Carlile on some areas and disagree with him on others. Frankly, that is the nature of parliamentary work, as the hon. Gentleman knows better than anyone.
As for the hon. Gentleman’s point about foreign registrations, those are of British citizens living abroad. Those are the only terms on which people are registered to vote on our electoral register. It is not right to say that those are a random 3.5 million people; that is certainly not true. They are British citizens and therefore their donations are as valid as their votes.
The Government recognise that there are risks. That is why it is already an offence to attempt to make a donation by concealing information, giving false information or knowingly facilitating the making of an impermissible donation. Where the foreign power condition is met in relation to a relevant electoral offence, as set out in schedule 1 to the Bill, clause 16 provides for a substantially increased maximum penalty: where a one-year sentence previously applied, that has been increased to four years; and two-year sentences have been increased to seven years. These relevant electoral offences include offences of undue influence, for which the maximum sentence has been increased to seven years, and making a false declaration about the source of a donation, for which the maximum sentence has been increased to four years.
Indeed, the Government have already taken action. The Elections Act 2022 tightened the law to close loopholes on foreign spending. The Electoral Commission is also being given more powers to access Companies House information, through measures under the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill. That will allow the Electoral Commission to undertake the proper targeted and proportionate checks.
For absolute clarity, donations to political parties from foreign powers, made directly or indirectly, are not permissible. The amendment places new requirements on minor parties, who are not subject to any other financial reporting requirements at this time, as they can contest only local and parish elections. The amendment would therefore place huge administrative burdens on small, grassroots political campaigning and would punish grassroots democracy.
It is not clear how the proposals would work in practice. Political parties are not banks; rightly, they do not have access to individuals’ financial records. They are not His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs; they do not have access to tax records. They do have access to the electoral roll and to Companies House, which they are already obliged to check. The Electoral Commission already publishes guidance on these legal duties. Indeed, political parties must already report all larger donations to the Electoral Commission, which are then published online for public scrutiny.
Is the Minister saying that small grassroots organisations, many of them associational organisations that may be registered charities in England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, are not capable of filling out an extra form to make sure that they are not being utilised by foreign states?
The hon. Member underplays what the amendment would do. It would be much more than simply filling in a form and would place a greater burden of a need to check, which would be a major requirement for small political parties and grassroots organisations. I am surprised that he, as a champion of local democracy, would require smaller parties to do that.
As I have said, Lords amendment 22 is not needed. The law already makes robust provision in relation to donations to political parties. Foreign donations are banned. It is an offence to accept them and there are strong rules safeguarding against impermissible donations via the backdoor. Parties can accept donations only from permissible donors. As such, the Government will not accept the amendment.
Amendment 122 imposes a duty on the Prime Minister to amend the memorandum of understanding between the Prime Minister and the Intelligence and Security Committee to account for changes to intelligence or security activities
“as a result of this Act”.
It also requires engagement on these revisions to begin within six months of the Act coming into force.
The power to make revisions to the MOU between the Prime Minister and the ISC is not limited to changes resulting from a specific piece of legislation. Adding the amendment risks creating the erroneous impression that explicit legislative provision is required in order for the ISC to propose amendments to the MOU. Further, the power to amend the MOU is already included in the Justice and Security Act 2013. I would be happy to meet with the chair of the ISC, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East, on this matter. Indeed, we have spoken about that in the past.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend—and he is a friend—who I know is saying what he has to say. We know that the memorandum of understanding can be amended as developments in the organisation of Government require it to be amended, but the trouble is that the Prime Minister has been reluctant to amend it and it is not being amended. The reason this amendment was introduced in the other place is to force the Government to do what they should be doing voluntarily.
As usual, my right hon. Friend makes his point cogently. In reality, the MOU requires amendment because the nature of the Government has changed. He is absolutely right that we need to ensure that the House is able to scrutinise the Government on areas where intelligence and security information is required. I agree that that update needs to be made, but I disagree that this is the place to do it or that it should be done in legislation, for the reasons of flexibility that we have already discussed. I know that he will be making his case powerfully to the Prime Minister, and no doubt to other Ministers, to make sure that the updates required to make sure scrutiny is observed are followed through.
Finally, I turn to the amendment to the Serious Crime Act 2007 tabled today, which largely speaks for itself. It clarifies the application of the new defence, which will apply to
“the proper exercise of a function of the armed forces”
only when relating to intelligence. This addresses concerns raised in the other place about the scope of armed forces activities that may have been covered by the defence. It builds upon the amendment tabled by Lord Anderson on Report in the Lords and the commitment made in the other place to bring forward a similar amendment. I am glad that we can bring it forward today.
The ISC has heard and accepted the operational problems caused by the application of the SCA offences. I believe the new SCA defence, and today’s amendment to it, satisfy the concerns of the United Kingdom intelligence community, the armed forces, the other place and this House. I therefore ask the House to support the Government amendment. Let me again thank the Intelligence and Security Committee for its co-operation and help in improving the Bill.
As the House will know, the Government have also tabled a minor amendment to the foreign influence registration scheme, designed to ensure parity across the devolved Administrations in respect of the public officials covered within the meaning of political influence activity.
This Bill is a groundbreaking piece of legislation that will revolutionise the tools and powers available to the police and our intelligence agencies, so that they are equipped to keep us safe.
The Minister will be aware of Lords amendment 130, which relates to the sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia. He will also be aware of the concern that has been expressed about the possible unintended consequences of the Bill. Those bases are critical to UK national security, as is our relationship with the Republic of Cyprus, which a close friend of many in the House. Will he say a little about where the discussions have got to, and whether there will be a good conclusion?
The hon. Gentleman has tempted me to approach the issue a little early in my speech, but let me put this firmly on the record. I have met the high commissioner of Cyprus, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to its Foreign Secretary. I want to make it clear that any references in the Bill to the sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia shall be in accordance with the 1960 treaty concerning the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, shall not affect the status of the sovereign base areas as defined in the treaty, and will not in any way undermine its provisions. References to the sovereign base areas in the Bill in no way indicate a change in UK policy towards their governance. I hope that is extremely clear.
If we had these powers now, I would already be encouraging the police to use them against those who side with our enemies. As always, I want to share my admiration and appreciation for the services, their work and all their efforts that so often go unseen, although the impact does not go unnoticed. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will support the Government’s changes, and our opposition to the amendments relating to the ISC and political party donations.
We on the Labour Benches are in no doubt about the importance of the Bill. Transnational repression and interference from hostile state actors and their proxies are testing the UK’s defences as never before. As the global landscape continues to change at a staggering pace, interference from countries that do not share our values is nothing new. However, the breadth and enduring nature of the threats we are now facing is a contemporary challenge, combined with the technology and methods used by those seeking to undermine us, which are new and enhanced.
Today is World Press Freedom Day, giving us a chance to recommit ourselves to defending press freedom, but also to acknowledge that many of the threats to which our security services and counter-terrorism police are responding here in the UK relate to the protection of journalists, from the—thankfully disrupted—assassination and kidnap plots against UK residents who are perceived as enemies of Iran owing to their coverage of the protests and the regime’s brutal crackdown, to the unacceptable harassment reported by Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC and her colleagues acting on behalf of the British national Jimmy Lai, the pro-democracy newspaper owner currently detained in Hong Kong. We must challenge that overseas and refuse to tolerate it here.
We have always understood that we need the new provisions in the Bill, but the Minister will understand where I am coming from when I say that this has been far from a shining example of best practice in passing legislation. The churn in the Government since the Bill was tabled in May last year, coupled with the late and lengthy additions to it, has meant that scrutiny has been truncated on occasion, but it is all the more crucial as a result. It is unusual for a Bill to come back from the other place with—if I am not mistaken—no fewer than 117 Government amendments, but that is why I, like the Minister, am particularly grateful to our colleagues at the other end of the building, where operational expertise in particular has had a positive impact in shaping and sharpening these measures to ensure that they deliver the protections we need and the safeguards we can all trust.
Let me begin by discussing the Government amendments, secured in the House of Lords, that amend the foreign influence registration scheme, which is a case in point. It constitutes a comprehensive section of the Bill, but provisions on it were not tabled until the final stages of the Bill Committee in the House of Commons. It was a recommendation in the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report, and it is something that we have consistently supported in principle. As the Minister knows, however, it will require a degree of fine tuning to get the balance right. We are broadly supportive of the plethora of Government amendments, given that scrutiny in the House of Lords has brought about some of that fine tuning. We look forward to further guidance on this, and will work with the Government to ensure that we capture what we need to capture without impeding genuine activity and interactions that are benign to national security.
I welcome the fact that the Government have listened to journalists’ concerns by clarifying the scope of offences in part 1, and the fact that part 1 will be subject to oversight as a consequence of Lords amendments 33 and 34, which was an ongoing ask from the Labour party throughout the Bill’s passage in the House of Commons.
As the Minister knows, we also had serious concerns about the Bill’s changes to the Serious Crime Act 2015, outlining our reasons in detail at this Dispatch Box and in Committee and voting to remove that clause on Report having been unable to shift the Government’s position. I am therefore pleased that Lords amendment 26 means that clause 28 has been significantly reshaped with, I understand, some assistance from the Intelligence and Security Committee. We pleaded with the Government to engage in that dialogue, and I thank all those, in this place and outside, who helped to bring clause 28 to a much better place. However, I understand the points raised by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) in his amendments. I therefore invite the Minister to put on record once more the Government’s commitment to the Fulford principles, and to stress that
“The UK Government does not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone unlawful killing, the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment...or extraordinary rendition. In no circumstance will UK personnel ever take action amounting to torture, unlawful killing, extraordinary rendition, or CIDT.”
Lords amendment 122, tabled by Lord Coaker, will introduce a duty to update the Intelligence and Security Committee’s memorandum of understanding to reflect the provisions in the Bill. This follows a recommendation made by the ISC in its 2021-22 annual report. As noted in the report, during the passage of what became the Justice and Security Act 2013, the then Security Minister told Parliament that it was
“the intention of the Government that the ISC should have oversight of substantively all of central Government’s intelligence and security activities to be realised now and in the future.”––[Official Report, Justice and Security Public Bill Committee, 31 March 2013; c. 98.]
Ten years on, intelligence and security activities have continued to fall under the remit of different policy Departments, yet those Departments have not been added to the ISC’s memorandum of understanding. I think it fair to say that as a result, the ISC is not functioning as originally intended. Indeed, one of the starkest revelations from the report is that although, in the 20 years following the ISC’s establishment in 1994, the ISC met the Prime Minister annually to discuss its work, the ISC has not been able to secure a meeting with a Prime Minister since December 2014. There have been five Prime Ministers in the intervening time.
For the record, I think I should say that during her very short tenure the current Prime Minister’s immediate predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), did offer to come and meet the ISC. I hope that is an example that her successor will follow soon, but we are waiting for a similar commitment to be made.
I am grateful to the Chair of the ISC for that clarification. It was indeed a short tenure, and we will never know whether that meeting would have come to fruition, but I hope the spirit was there then and is continued. Beyond the spirit, however, let us hope that we can nail down some of this today.
It has been argued that Select Committees should instead have primacy in fulfilling the role. Pages 42 and 43 of the annual report list numerous Departments that have various security and intelligence functions that they are expected to oversee. However, these Committees, while no doubt providing robust scrutiny, simply do not have the same powers and security clearance as the ISC members and so cannot fulfil that duty to the same level. The Minister might well say that this amendment is not required, but the problem remains, as we have already discussed, and there is a need to address the issues raised by the ISC’s most recent report, so I look forward to the Minister reflecting once again on his position on that in his closing remarks.
Lords amendment 22, tabled by Lord Carlile, to whom we have already paid tribute today, enjoyed broad support in the other place. The amendment would require UK political parties to publish a policy statement to identify donations from foreign powers, either directly or indirectly. Moreover, the amendment would bind political parties to making an annual statement of risk management to the Electoral Commission and create a duty for the Secretary of State to publish guidelines on these provisions. In the most recent annual threat update, the director general of MI5, Ken McCallum, said:
“We see the Chinese authorities playing the long game in cultivating contacts to manipulate opinion in China’s favour—seeking to co-opt and influence not just prominent Parliamentarians from across the political landscape, but people much earlier in their careers in public life, gradually building a debt of obligation.”
We know that offering donations to individuals and political parties is unfortunately a tried and tested approach used by hostile state actors. That is not in doubt. The Minister might tell me that Lords amendment 22 is unnecessary and that it is covered by other provisions, but can he tell me that those other provisions are effective and that dirty money, with a price attached, is not finding its way into our system and our democracy? The need for such provisions is both pertinent and serious. In 2020, a report by the Intelligence and Security Committee found that members of the Russian elite linked to Putin had donated to UK political parties.
This amendment would also guard against undue Chinese influence. The Minister was in Belfast when we had an urgent question in the House in April on Chinese police stations in the UK—the second urgent question on that issue. The shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), stated that it had been reported in The Times that
“a Chinese businessman linked to an alleged Chinese secret police station in London has attended Chinese Communist party political conferences, is linked to the united front work department and has organised Tory party fundraising dinners and attended events with Conservative Prime Ministers.”—[Official Report, 19 April 2023; Vol. 731, c. 248.]
Just last month, the Good Law Project published damning revelations that since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 the Conservatives had accepted at least £243,000 from Russian-associated donors, some of whom were linked to sanctioned businesses and organisations.
The Electoral Commission has produced a helpful briefing on Lords amendment 22. It states:
“Enhanced due diligence and risk assessment processes would help campaigners identify foreign money, identify potential proceeds of crime, and establish a culture of ‘know your donor’ within parties—similar to the ‘know your customer’ approach, encouraged through Anti-Money Laundering regulations for the financial sector.”
It goes on to stress:
“These requirements could be introduced in a way that recognises the need for proportionality”—
this speaks to the Minister’s concerns—
“with different requirements depending on the size of a regulated entity’s financial infrastructure, or the size of a donation, to prevent the checks becoming a disproportionate burden on smaller parties and campaigners.”
Spotlight on Corruption argues:
“The rules that are supposed to prohibit foreign donations—in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000—are riddled with loopholes which enable foreign money to be channelled to political parties and MPs through lawful donors.”
The Committee on Standards of Public Life, in its 2021 “Regulating Election Finance” report, recommended that laws should be updated and that
“parties and non-party campaigners should have appropriate procedures in place to determine the true source of donations. Parties and campaigners should develop a risk-based policy for managing donations, proportionate to the levels of risk to which they are exposed”.
There is an evidence base for such action. We know that the risk is there, and this is a rational and proportionate response to that risk. If the Minister and the Government reject these proposals, the electorate will draw their own conclusions as to why.
I have set out the case for the Lords amendments before us today. Before closing, I want to join the Minister in paying tribute to the incredible work that our security services and police forces do every day. We very much recognise that the additional tools in the Bill will assist them in that important work. We have not agreed with every detail of the Bill, but I am pleased that we have made a great deal of progress in the areas where we have had differences. We are in no doubt that many of the new powers within it are necessary and needed urgently. I hope that the Minister will be persuaded by the arguments he has yet to hear in the Chamber today, and that he will reflect again on the merits of Lords amendments 22 and 122.
It is clear from the opening contributions of both Front Benchers that there is a considerable degree of common ground on this legislation, and I would like to congratulate both of them on the way they have made their presentations. The Intelligence and Security Committee strongly welcomes the National Security Bill. The Committee has long called for reform of the Official Secrets Acts regime and highlighted the grave dangers posed by hostile state actors to the UK’s national security. Most recently, as we have heard, the ISC’s Russia report of 2020 made it clear that the Official Secrets Acts regime was outdated and not fit for purpose. It recommended that new legislation be urgently introduced to provide new tools to help our law enforcement and intelligence community, who work tirelessly to defend the UK’s national security.
The Bill modernises the Official Secrets Acts espionage regime and creates important new offences such as sabotage, foreign interference and assisting a foreign intelligence service. As recommended in the ISC’s Russia report, the Bill also creates the long-awaited foreign influence registration scheme. That must be a cause of particular satisfaction to the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), who strongly promoted that policy during his very successful term as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Together, these changes will increase the transparency of those threats and help to make the UK a more difficult operating environment for foreign intelligence services to act. They will help to deter hostile foreign powers from undertaking harmful activities and disrupt them at a much earlier stage. There have been several justified concerns about the way in which the Bill was handled, but after considerable scrutiny, especially in Committee and in the upper House, it has been greatly improved.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend, a fellow member of the Committee, because that is one of the points I am about to come to and it is good to have it reinforced by someone with her status and experience.
We were very engaged in the legislation and three members of the Committee formed part of the Commons Bill Committee. Since then, the Committee has considered classified information on behalf of Parliament from the Government and held constructive sessions with the intelligence community to explain the rationale behind important parts of the Bill, such as clause 31 as it now is—it was previously clause 28. We have focused on ensuring that the Bill is as effective as possible in providing the intelligence community and law enforcement with the required tools while incorporating the necessary safeguards.
The right hon. Gentleman is highlighting what he sees as benefits, but does he agree that clauses 85 to 88 will mean any British Government could avoid paying damages in cases where the secret intelligence services have arbitrarily handed a UK citizen into the detention of a friendly state that goes on to torture them? Surely being liable for playing a part in the torture of a UK citizen is not a good way to do intelligence.
My understanding of the legislation—someone from the Intelligence and Security Committee is due to speak after me who has a better perspective of the detail of this than I have—is that there are safeguards against anything that could possibly be used to justify or facilitate torture. This was debated in considerable detail in Committee, and I am concerned that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of respect from our time together on the Select Committee on Defence, still feels that the safeguards may not be strong enough. Perhaps we will hear from him later.
We are pleased to see that the Government have incorporated various changes recommended by members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, including on strengthening the Bill’s independent oversight provisions and replacing the “exemption” under clause 21 with an improved “defence”, with stronger safeguards and accountability provisions.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) flagged a moment ago, there has been a missed opportunity, namely the failure to reform the 1989 Act. As the ISC has said since the Bill’s introduction, it does not go far enough, despite reforming the espionage regime under the OSA, because it fails to reform the 1989 Act, as both we and the Law Commission recommended. That is despite a previous Government commitment that reforming the 1989 Act would be a key part of the Bill. This means the problems with the 1989 Act, which the Government have already acknowledged, will persist. Among those problems is the requirement to prove that damage has been done by unauthorised disclosures, which acts as a barrier to prosecution because showing that disclosures have done damage risks increasing the damage.
The recommendations include increasing the two-year maximum sentence, which we feel is clearly insufficient to deter or to respond to the most serious unauthorised disclosures. Will the Minister commit to introducing legislation to reform the 1989 Act in this or the next parliamentary Session? I would like an answer either now or at the end.
My right hon. and gallant Friend underlines my point, which is that, in proving damage has been done, the mere fact of displaying why something has been damaging can increase the damage and adverse impact by many multiples.
Both Front Benchers focused on Lords amendment 22, on foreign interference in elections, and Lords amendment 122, on the duty to update the MOU of the ISC. Like Admiral Lord West, who spoke in favour of Lords amendment 22 on the ISC’s behalf, I firmly support the introduction of the proposed new clause, which would help to increase the transparency and accountability of our political system. The ISC’s Russia report of 2020 recognised that the UK has clearly welcomed Russian money, including in the political sphere. It found that several members of the Russian elite with close links to Putin have been identified as being involved with political organisations in the UK, including by making large donations to political parties. That clause would require a UK-registered political party to create a policy statement, and to provide the Electoral Commission with an annual statement of risk management, identifying how risks relating to donations from a foreign power are being managed to ensure such donations are properly identified. This should not be controversial, and it is still not clear, despite the Minister’s best efforts, why the Government would wish to oppose that clause. Indeed, the Government said in the other place that the current electoral finance legislation is sufficient.
Several Lords also noted that, unlike companies or charities, political parties do not have to examine the source of the funds they receive. As those Lords explained, that means it is perfectly possible for companies to make significant donations to political parties despite clearly not making operating profits—so with limited explanation of how they can afford such donations or where the money comes from. That means that, unlike companies and charities, there is no enhanced due diligence even when a donor is operating from a high-risk country listed in terrorism-financing or money-laundering legislation.
As was also suggested in the other place, incorporating this modest amendment would mean that political parties develop a culture of knowing their donor, just as companies, particularly financial and legal entities, are required to know their customer. It is entirely appropriate for political parties to do more to determine the source of donations. The additional measures proposed would not be over-onerous. Lords amendment 22 is eminently reasonable, and it should not be controversial for political parties to want to ensure the transparency of their foreign political donations. We must protect against covert, foreign state-backed financial donations if we are to defend our democratic institutions from harmful interference and influence.
I absolutely agree that we should be guarding against this. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree there is also a problem with incorporated associations that donate money? It is very difficult to trace where the money has come from, despite the efforts of organisations such as openDemocracy.
I agree that it will always be difficult to man the defences sufficiently against people who apply great ingenuity and unscrupulousness in finding their way around such defences. Perhaps we should bear in mind—I say this in the context of British politics, rather than anywhere else—that, so long as we have an adversarial political system, parties that accept what we might dub “dirty donations” will be found out if their opponents are doing their job properly; or if they are not absolutely proven to have accepted money from unacceptable sources, they will still suffer general reputational damage that will not do them any favours when people cast their vote. It is very much in the interest of political parties to make sure their funds come from clean and acceptable sources.
In turning to Lords amendment 122, on the duty to update the Intelligence and Security Committee’s memorandum of understanding, I can almost hear an under-the-radar groan in the Chamber because this subject keeps coming back in one Bill after another. It featured prominently during our consideration of the National Security and Investment Act 2021, and I fear this will continue until the matter is resolved. People might be forgiven for saying, “Isn’t this all a bit unimportant, a bit introspective and a bit self-regarding of the Intelligence and Security Committee?” In our defence in insisting that the matter needs to be sorted out, I quote none other than Lord Butler of Brockwell, who, as Robin Butler, was one of the most revered Cabinet Secretaries in recent political history. In the debate on the matter in the House of Lords, he said that “the consequence” of the way the Government have been behaving
“is that in recent times the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament has not been used for the purpose for which it was set up.
If the Government are not going to use the Intelligence and Security Committee properly, they should save money and abolish it. But, of course, they will not do that because Parliament set it up, Parliament thinks it is important that this House and the House of Commons should have some insight into intelligence operations, and it would be unacceptable for the Government to abolish it. But they must choose either to abolish it or to use it properly. If they are to use it properly, they must update the memorandum of understanding and, as the noble Lord, Lord West, said, use it for the purpose for which Parliament intended: to give oversight by people who are fully screened within the ring of secrecy to report to Parliament. I think this is a much more important amendment than the face of it suggests.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 March 2023; Vol. 828, c. 745-46.]
When someone of Lord Butler’s stature makes those remarks, we can be justified in continuing to focus attention on this matter.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one curiosity of this debate is that earlier this afternoon the Minister referred with approval, as did the shadow Minister, to the ISC’s work in attempting to seek a resolution of the problems we all found with clause 28? Does that not demonstrate that the ISC’s remit matters because, if nothing else, the Government sometimes find it a useful institution to help to resolve this kind of problem?
I am grateful for that strong support. It should not have been necessary for people in the upper House to bring forward a legal requirement to update the MOU. For the benefit of people not buried in the intricacies of these arrangements, let me say that the MOU means that at any one time an exchange of letters between me, as the Chairman of the ISC, and the Prime Minister can modify the range of organisations that the ISC has the right to scrutinise. As we will be hearing in a few moments, that is because when that arrangement was initiated, it was recognised that from time to time changes in the structure of Departments mean that different parts involving classified intelligence-related activities would pop up here and there in different Ministries, so we would need an ability to adjust the MOU to approve our scrutinising the classified parts of those activities. That is precisely because ordinary—I know that my colleague on the Front Bench does not like my using that word—departmental Select Committees are not able effectively to scrutinise highly classified material in any systematic way. If they were, it would not have been necessary to set up the ISC in the first place.
As a relatively new member of the ISC, I am finding it extremely perplexing to try to understand why the Government have such a resistance to updating the MOU. Does our Chair agree that it would be particularly useful if the Minister gave his commitment to backing the Committee’s calls to update the MOU, using his good offices, and to trying to move that forward as quickly as possible? Like others, I can find little understanding of why the Government would be so resistant to doing that.
I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to both him and his predecessor for making an extremely valuable and valued contribution to the Committee. We draw such authority as we have from the fact that party politics does not enter into our work. I think I heard the Security Minister say that he accepted that the MOU needs to be updated—
I had better move on, because we are in a time-limited debate and I still have a little way to go. Let me set out the background by saying that the new clause proposed by Lords amendment 122 would update the ISC’s remit to ensure that it has the power effectively to scrutinise intelligence and security activity that takes place across Government under the new national security regime, not just in the seven organisations already listed in our MOU. The MOU sits under the Justice and Security Act 2013, and it outlines our remit and the organisations that we oversee. That encompasses the expenditure, administration, policy and operations of the agencies and four other organisations that currently form part of the UK’s intelligence community.
Given the national security focus of the Bill, the ISC already has the power to oversee much of the intelligence and security activity that will take place under the new regime through its oversight of those seven organisations. However, as we have made clear in our most recent annual reports, which were cited by the shadow Security Minister, intelligence and security activities are increasingly being undertaken by a wider collection of policy Departments, including those that generally do not carry out national security- related activity, such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Department for Transport. Those teams are not currently listed in our MOU, simply because at the time it was drafted, in 2013, they were not responsible for any intelligence and security work. Had they been, Parliament would have included them in the ISC’s remit, as is clearly indicated by the commitments given to the House during the passage of the 2013 Act by the late and much-missed James Brokenshire, the then Security Minister.
All this means that the ISC’s MOU needs urgent updating. In the meantime, effective parliamentary oversight of intelligence and security matters is being eroded. Lords amendment 122 is therefore essential, as it will help to reverse the increasingly large gap that has emerged in Parliament’s ability effectively to oversee intelligence and security activity.
Effective oversight of intelligence and security matters can be undertaken only by the ISC. Select Committees do an excellent job scrutinising their Departments, and we have no wish to duplicate any of their work, but only we have the security infrastructure effectively to scrutinise those aspects where classified material, such as intelligence, underpins decisions on national security. The importance of this difference is obvious. For example, during the passage of this Bill, when the Government were unable to provide publicly the detailed rationale and case studies underpinning clause 31 to Parliament, due to its classified nature, the material was provided instead to those on the ISC, who were then able to scrutinise it on Parliament’s behalf. That enabled us to understand the problem and make recommendations for change, leading to a much improved “defence”, with the necessary safeguards, in place of the previous unsatisfactory “exemption.”
I have almost concluded, so I will just make the following few additional remarks. This could not have been achieved without the ISC, because Select Committees cannot provide effective oversight of classified matters. This is no reflection on the ability of Select Committees, which provide robust oversight on all other matters. The Government provided a clear undertaking to Parliament during the passage of the Justice and Security Act 2013, when the then Security Minister told Parliament that it was
“the intention of the Government that the ISC should have oversight of…all of central Government’s intelligence and security activities to be realised now”—
which was then—
“and in the future”—[Official Report, Justice and Security Public Bill Committee, 31 January 2013; c. 98.]
which is now.
It was clear that the MOU was designed to be a living document that could be updated to reflect any changes to the security and intelligence activities being undertaken by the Government. Yet the Government have repeatedly failed to meet this commitment, which indicates a worrying lack of appreciation of the importance of comprehensive oversight of intelligence and security matters. As the ISC set out in our annual report, the then National Security Adviser relayed the Government’s position that they did not feel bound by statements made by the then Security Minister in 2013 during the passage of the Justice and Security Act.
To conclude, if the Government will not ensure that the ISC’s memorandum of understanding is kept updated —and they have not been ensuring that—each piece of new legislation devolving intelligence and security matters away from the bodies already overseen by the ISC must come with a commensurate expansion to that MOU. I know that this is not the Minister’s fault. I speak to Minister after Minister—I am not saying anything about this particular one—but Ministers do not seem to understand why this keeps happening. I just wonder where exactly in the Government machine this necessary change that was always envisaged in the ISC system is being blocked.
Once again, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to scrutinise what we recognise as an extremely important piece of legislation. Like both the Minister and the shadow Minister, I wish to start by paying tribute to all those who are involved in protecting us and our security.
The National Security Bill has had SNP support from the outset, but we have also highlighted significant problems with it: things that were not in the Bill that should have been; things that were in the Bill that needed fixing; and things that were in the Bill that had no place in there at all. I welcome that many of those concerns were also raised in the House of Lords, and recognise that the Government have responded positively to several of them.
We welcome the amendments that have added clarity to the scope of some of the offences in the Bill, particularly around the state of knowledge required before offences are committed. In general, we welcome the changes to the registration schemes, which will make them more targeted. We also welcome the broadening of the oversight provisions to ensure that the measures in part 1 of the Bill are properly scrutinised.
On omissions, we continue to think that the failure to reform the Official Secrets Act 1989 is a major opportunity missed, and we regret that there has been no addition of a public interest defence, which is something to which a number of Members have alluded. That is an issue that will have to be returned to urgently.
Some improvements have been made to the Ministry of Justice’s clauses in the Bill relating to legal aid. However, we remain of the view that the legal aid provisions should have been taken out altogether. In relation to the award of damages in clause 83, improvements have been made, but, yet again, not enough. It is welcome that reductions in awards of damages now can happen only where there is a direct link between the alleged act of terrorism and the claim for damages. However, there is still concern about how this will operate when foreign Governments—Governments who have carried out torture based on UK intelligence—simply use the smear of an unproven terrorism allegation to justify or defend their actions.
I wish to go back to the point that I made to the Chair of the ISC, who is a very good friend and who must be commended for everything that he does in relation to that Committee. Again, clauses 85 to 88 seem to allow any British Government to avoid paying damages if the intelligence services have participated in the torture of a UK national, such as my constituent Jagtar Singh Johal, by an ally, especially if they are found not guilty and let go.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for intervening. His constituent’s case is one that I had in mind when drafting this part of my speech. We do not need to look too far to think of other possible examples. I hope the provisions that he is referring to do not have those implications, but more could have been done to make that absolutely clear. What would be useful today at least would be to have assurances from the Minister that mere assertions by foreign Governments will not be enough to allow that clause to apply. It must be for the courts to interrogate whether assertions that somebody was involved in torture are made out.
Let me turn to the amendments under discussion today. Lords amendment 22 would place additional duties on political parties in relation to risks of donations from foreign powers. In the interests of transparency, I should declare an interest: I have recently had the great honour of being appointed the national treasurer of the Scottish National party, so this amendment would add to my already rather full in-tray. Notwithstanding that, we must acknowledge the serious dangers posed by such donations to our democratic political systems and indeed to our security.
We have been warned by the Intelligence and Security Committee in its Russia report, by MI5 and by various other bodies about the dangers of foreign influence being sought through donation. Yes, we do have the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, but we cannot seriously think that we are remotely in a position to say that the risk has been dealt with. Far from it, the repeated and significant circumvention of those rules is precisely why we continue to receive the warnings that I have just referred to. We need to think about going beyond basic status checks on donors to investigating—where an assessment of risk requires it—the real source of donations. There is support for that type of approach from the Electoral Commission and the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
We welcome this amendment by Lord Carlile, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, with support from the former head of MI5, Lord Evans, and others. As the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee has said, this is a modest rather than revolutionary proposal, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. Frankly, opposition to the amendment seems rather fishy indeed.
On Lords amendment 122 and the role of the Intelligence and Security Committee, my general approach is to give colleagues on the ISC all the support that they request. The job that they do is utterly crucial, and I have never had any reason to doubt how seriously and assiduously they go about their task. Their annual report highlighted the need for an updated memorandum of understanding, particularly given the outsourcing of intelligence and security activities to different policy Departments, but there is no sign of that update happening. The support of ISC colleagues for Lords amendment 122 therefore attracts significant deference and weight. Frankly, if nothing else, the Government need a metaphorical kick up the backside in their approach to the ISC—an approach exemplified by the failure of any Prime Minister to meet the ISC since 2014. Therefore, we support Lords amendment 122.
Finally, we welcome the significant change in approach to the offences under part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, and thank all involved in the drafting of the new clause. In particular, it is welcome that the provision now takes the form of a defence rather than an exemption or a carve-out. However, we do remain concerned that there is no specific exclusion in relation to serious harms, such as torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and sexual offences. If anything, we are even more concerned now than before. Obviously, the Government have spent a lot of time redrafting the Bill in the light of the concerns that have been raised, yet they have still decided to exclude such serious harms from the scope of the defence. It seems a very deliberate and conscious choice that they have made and the Fulford principles do not provide sufficient safeguards on their own.
We therefore support amendment (c) to Lords amendment 26, tabled by the right hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). At the least, it would be very useful to have the Minister say at the Dispatch Box that the Government do not see any circumstances in which such activities could be deemed necessary for the purposes of an intelligence function. On that note, we welcome amendment (c).
We do support the Bill, but we still think there is further to go to get it to where it needs to be.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and also grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis) for setting out so clearly the position of the Intelligence and Security Committee, of which I am also a member. He made many points with which I agree and which I do not need to repeat, but I do want to say something very briefly about Lords amendments 22 and 122 in slightly more detail. Both amendments have something in common, which is that they highlight a significant problem and put forward, perhaps, an imperfect solution to those problems. The Government’s saying that they are imperfect solutions has validity, but it would have more validity if the Government were prepared to come forward with solutions to those problems that were less imperfect, which we could all then support.
It is certainly true that amendment 122 reflects a significant problem. As my right hon. Friend said earlier, the situation is that the remit of the Intelligence and Security Committee has fallen substantially behind the reality of today’s intelligence and security architecture. The bits of Government now making decisions with intelligence material are no longer limited to the bits of Government covered by the ISC’s remit as set out in the Justice and Security Act 2013 and the memorandum of understanding set out under it.
That is not an esoteric technical issue. It is a problem not because it affects empire-building of particular parliamentary Committees, but rather because it affects the quality of parliamentary scrutiny that can be delivered. As my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East said, the ISC was set up as the only Committee that could look fully at sensitive intelligence material and it only exists, or needs to exist, because other Committees, including Select Committees, cannot do so in the same way.
It may be worth looking at what that memorandum of understanding for the ISC says in paragraph 8:
“The ISC is the only committee of Parliament that has regular access to protectively marked information that is sensitive for national security reasons: this means that only the ISC is in a position to scrutinise effectively the work of the Agencies and of those parts of Departments whose work is directly concerned with intelligence and security matters.”
In the interest of fairness, I should also read out the footnote following that sentence, which says:
“This will not affect the wider scrutiny of departments such as the Home Office, FCO and MOD by other parliamentary committees. The ISC will aim to avoid any unnecessary duplication with the work of those Committees.”
That is a point that my right hon. Friend made earlier.
The burden of that text is obvious. There is a reason why the ISC exists—it does work that other Committees cannot do—but there is plenty for those other Committees to do that does not have an intelligence or security bent to it. As more and more units of the type that the Government have already set up once—amendment 122 envisages that that may be done further—deal with intelligence material but remain outside the remit of the ISC, the gap in scrutiny becomes ever greater.
That is not a fanciful concern. As I say, it has been done once already with the Investment Security Unit, which is an instructive example. Despite what some might think was the obvious overlay of intelligence and security material over commercial considerations—the whole point of the unit, it would probably be argued—the Government considered that none the less the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee could scrutinise it effectively. I do not seek to relitigate that question, and I certainly make no reflection on the ability of the BEIS Committee or its Chairman to do a good job, as they clearly do and will continue to do. In the absence of an updated memorandum of understanding for the ISC, however, it is an example of the Government not being open to extending the work of the ISC where such new units come to be established.
The Government have said in relation to the ISU that the ISC can look at the input to the ISU’s decision making from the intelligence community, but that gives rise to a different problem: the ISC could come to a different conclusion from the BEIS Committee on the wisdom or appropriateness of the very same decision by the unit. That is clearly unsatisfactory and it is a problem that must be fixed.
The Government are perfectly entitled to say that they can fix that problem without the legislative change that amendment 122 proposes, and they are absolutely right to say that the memorandum of understanding for the ISC can be changed; anyone who wants to look it up can find it in section 2(5)(c) of the Justice and Security Act 2013. However, as has been said, that can be done only with the agreement of both the ISC and the Prime Minister, and there is no such agreement so far. The ISC cannot do it unilaterally.
The Minister made an argument, which I noticed he did not rely on from the Dispatch Box earlier, in a letter to all Members of this House on 27 April, referring to section 3 of the 2013 Act in that letter, which says that the ISC can make reports on
“any aspect of its functions”.
He presumably did so to make the point that the ISC, if it wishes, can range widely. The problem is that that is a slightly circular argument.
Section 3 refers to the ISC’s capacity to make reports on any aspect of its functions, but its functions are set out in section 2 of the 2013 Act, which says that the ISC oversees the activities of three specified agencies and of others set out in the memorandum of understanding. If it is not in the memorandum of understanding, the ISC cannot oversee it. That underlines the need for the memorandum of understanding to be up to date.
We have a real problem of the ISC remit’s being out of date. If the Government argue that the solution that amendment 122 proposes to that problem is imperfect, I might be prepared to agree with them, but it will become increasingly difficult to resist imperfect solutions to this problem if the Government continue to resist and to refuse finding a more perfect one.
I will speak to amendment (c) in my name and in those of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and—though it came too late to be printed on the amendment paper—the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) . Amendment (c) would, as it states, disapply subsection (2) of proposed new section 50A of the Serious Crime Act 2007,
“in relation to an alleged offence that relates to conduct involving—
(a) torture or inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment, or
(b) the violation of a person’s sexual integrity.”
It is worth saying that the Bill that has come back from the other place is significantly improved on that which was sent to it. I posit the thought that, had the Bill started out as it stands today, an amendment such as mine would probably feature. It sits more logically with the structure of the Bill now, and it would avoid some of the unintended consequences. That is the disadvantage of starting a piece of legislation—a Bill of this nature should always have the maximum cross-party agreement and political consensus behind it—in a way that was, in the early days, quite divisive. The issues could perhaps have been better interrogated further upstream before the legislation came to the House.
The points that I wish to pray in aid of the amendment relate to the way in which clause 31, as it stands, would have effect. There are a number of points, which I will cover as briefly as possible because I do not want to filibuster the opportunity to put my own amendment to a vote; I have seen that done too many times in the past.
One concern, on which I would be interested to hear the Minister’s view, is that the International Criminal Court has warned that clause 31 as it stands would open the jurisdiction of the court to look at the actions of UK personnel. To the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, the ICC’s chief prosecutor wrote that cases could now be
“potentially admissible before the ICC”—
a fairly strong statement in these circumstances—citing the risk of creating gaps in the domestic prosecution mechanisms for war crimes and crimes against humanity under the Rome statute. The prosecutor said that the Bill would be clear if it clearly excluded serious human rights abuses from its remit. I do not know if it is the Government’s wish and intention that the International Criminal Court be given jurisdiction in that way, but should that ultimately turn out to be the case, neither the Minister nor his successors will be able to say that they were not warned.
Clause 31 could also give Ministers and officials a statutory defence for involvement in crimes such as targeted killing and torture. That could include sending information from the UK overseas to be used in a torture interrogation, assisting the offense of torture under section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Under the clause, a statutory defence would be available if the action were deemed necessary for the proper exercise of a function of an intelligence service or for the proper exercise of a function of the armed forces. In the Lords, that point was interrogated at length in Committee. The Minister in the Lords said that he would revert to Lord Pannick, but he never did. Instead, the Government chose to proceed in the way that is presented to the House today.
Clause 31 almost appears designed to protect politicians and officials in the UK rather than British personnel operating overseas. The clause would provide a legal defence for encouraging or assisting crimes overseas, such as giving a tip-off that leads to someone’s torture, as opposed to the direct commission of the crime itself. This is not fanciful; we know what was done by Jack Straw and senior officials of the day in relation to the Belhaj and Boudchar cases. Although we have never really seen a proper conclusion to those cases, such an operational defence would put that comprehensively beyond reach.
The clause could also discourage the Crown Prosecution Service, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Lord Advocate from bringing cases. Where decisions are made about bringing prosecutions on individual cases, including those against Ministers and officials, the availability of a statutory defence for any conduct deemed “necessary” would likely discourage the prosecution authority from bringing a prosecution relating to criminal activities—or what would otherwise be criminal activities—that Ministers and officials assist or encourage others to do overseas.
In its simplest form, the Bill would still undermine an important and long-standing legal prohibition in this country on torture and related abuses. We have a long and distinguished history in this area. Conservative Members will be aware of the landmark changes made under the Government of the late Baroness Thatcher to create a specific criminal offence of torture. If the Government seek to undermine Baroness Thatcher’s legacy, I am quite prepared, on this one limited occasion, to take up cudgels and defend it.
The Bill also raises the question of our country’s moral authority. What right do we have to criticise other countries—for example, Saudi Arabia for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia for its extraterritorial offences—if we authorise the conduct of our own Ministers, politicians and personnel in relation to such activities? This is about our moral authority. I would like to think that the Government will look kindly on the amendments, if not today, then perhaps when the Bill returns to the other place.
I offer my support to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for his amendment (c) and his speech.
I will speak as the secretary of the National Union of Journalists parliamentary group, which is the cross-party group that speaks on behalf of journalists in the House. The union formed a coalition with the Index on Censorship and openDemocracy. Our objectives were to clarify and narrow the definitions of offences in the Bill to protect journalists, to seek a statutory public interest defence in the Bill, and to have an element of independent review and commissioning to review the operation of the Bill when implemented. We have successfully narrowed—as the Minister said—and defined the offences more clearly to protect journalists, which is helpful. An element of independent scrutiny has been introduced, which is helpful. There is no general public interest defence in the Bill, but that may well be developed in case law over time.
On that point, I impress upon the Minister that it is critical that the implementation of the legislation be monitored closely and that the Government stand ready to revise it if evidence mounts that there are any impositions placed on journalists that will impede them in their profession. I hope that a working relationship can be established between the NUJ and the Government as we go forward.
On Lords amendment 22 in particular, I have listened to various concerns that have been raised over the last decade, including by the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), by the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis), and by the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald). They listed the bodies that have expressed concerns and identified instances in which foreign money has permeated our political system and, unfortunately, individual parties, and the various expressions by numerous bodies about the need to strengthen our protections against that. I have worked on issues related to money laundering, and the lesson is that we need to go beyond just the registration of the status of the individual, company or organisation. The principles we have learned from the cross-party approach that we have taken on money laundering are to do with risk management. It goes beyond checking status and into creating greater responsibility to ensure that there is clarity about the source of funds.
To be frank, I expected the Government to give more weight to Lords amendment 22, particularly because it was sponsored by Lord Carlile, former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, and by Lord Evans, former head of MI5. I am not sure that we could get more authoritative recommendations on an amendment than that, so I am concerned. As my hon. Friend the shadow Minister mentioned, the Secretary of State is charged with bringing forward the provisions to ensure the effective operation of the amendment, so they can take into the account the need for proportionality with regard to smaller parties.
Having listened to the debate, I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government are not backing Lords amendment 22. We might come to it again at a later stage—although I am not sure whether any ping-pong will take place—but if we do not do it in this Bill, we will have to address the implementation of a risk management approach at some stage in the coming period.
I start where my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) finished. I am completely perplexed about why the Minister is holding out against Lords amendment 22, not least because he told Insider last year that it was “perfectly legitimate” to criticise political parties for accepting donations “that are not clear”. He made it absolutely clear at the time that he supported the idea of legislation to require political parties to be clear about where their funding was coming from. To be fair to him, that was obviously not when he was a Government Minister, and he has now fallen among thieves. I preferred the old version of the Minister, and I hope that, in our discussions over the next few minutes, we can manage to persuade him to return to proper form.
The pedigree for Lords amendment 22 is phenomenally strong, as has been said. Not only have Lord Carlile and Lord Evans—the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and a former head of MI5—called directly for such provisions, but as I understand from her comments, Baroness Manningham-Buller also supported Lords amendment 22, as did Lord West, all the members of the ISC, Spotlight on Corruption, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and, of course, the Electoral Commission.
The Electoral Commission wrote directly to the Minister last year to say that it would surely be wrong not to change the law so that political parties can accept donations from companies that have made enough money in the UK to fund the amount of their donation. One would think that that stands to reason. One would also think that it stands to reason, as the commission also argued, that political parties should be required to check not just whether someone is a permissible donor in the sense of being on the electoral register, but whether they have enough money of their own to be able to fund the political party to the extent proposed. That is just due diligence, but there are phenomenal loopholes in the law.
The Minister is normally a very polite and generous man, but I understand that he has still not replied to the Electoral Commission on this matter, and the commission has complained about this. In this area, as he knows perfectly well from our work on the Foreign Affairs Committee, complacency serves us ill. One need only look at the sad trajectory of the tier 1 visa system—the golden visa. When the report was finally produced it showed that we had given visas to live in the UK and make their permanent residence here to people we ended up sanctioning because they were so closely related to the Putin regime. The 2020 Russia report from the ISC—it should have been the 2019 Russia report, but the then Prime Minister did not allow it to be published before the general election—made it very clear that Russia and perhaps other state actors had been intent on affecting elections and referendums in this country, and urged us not to be complacent.
There are authoritarian state actors who wish us ill. They rely on the openness of our political system, on our open system of governance in the City, on the fact that contracts can be enforced, and on our open judicial system. They rely on all of that and, I would argue, on our complacency to be able to do their nefarious work in the UK. There is a flaw in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000: the concept of “permissible donor” is too tightly drawn. Surely any political party and any person trying to secure donations from a third party would want to ensure that the money they received was not tainted by human rights abuses in another country, by authoritarian acts from another country or, frankly, by malign influence by a third party state actor.
The position is made worse by the Elections Act 2022 adding to the registers 3.5 million overseas voters who pay, or who may pay, no tax in the UK, and who may have next to no relationship with the authorities in this country—it is necessarily very difficult to track that information down. What should a party do if it is offered a donation of, let us say, £50,000 by somebody who lives and works in Moscow today? The law says the party need not do anything, as long as the individual is on the electoral register. Surely, though, we do not think that that is right or appropriate. I want further checks to be in place. The provisions in the amendment are so minimal—absolutely the minimum that we have to do to make sure that political parties in this country do the basics.
I said there is a flaw—perhaps a fissure—in PPERA, but I am starting to worry that the Government want that loophole to exist. If they do not, I simply do not understand why the Minister is holding out on this point. I hope the Minister will change his mind on this minimal requirement and support Lords amendment 22. If we end up voting it down, I hope their lordships will throw it back to us. For more than a decade now, we have left the door wide open to political interference in our system in this country. It is time we slammed it shut.
First, I thank the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) for the contribution she made and the spirit in which she has approached these debates. She is absolutely right to talk about Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Jimmy Lai and to highlight the many issues that she did. Such matters unite us; another is the fact that this Government, like every Member of this House, I am sure, remain absolutely committed to the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There is absolutely nothing in this Bill, or in any other Bill that this Government are bringing forward, that would in any way undermine our obligations or the seriousness with which we treat torture as it is practised, sadly too frequently, around the world. Although I hear what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and the hon. and gallant Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) say, there is quite literally nothing in the Bill that would give rise to the need for amendment (c) to Lords amendment.
The point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland about Lord Pannick, however, was entirely fair. A letter should have gone back to him. In fact, the point was made and the answer given in the form of amendments to clause 3 that address his concern about the carve-out for lawyers. Although I agree that I should have written, the reality is that I addressed the points Lord Pannick raised in the Bill itself.
The matter of foreign donations has been raised again. The reality is that we have to treat British citizens like British citizens. The idea that we can treat British citizens differently depending on how we feel about them seems to me to be rather a bad way of making law, but that does not mean that political parties have to treat British citizens exactly alike. Surely the rule here is: just because you can does not mean you should. There are many donations, and perhaps many individuals making them, that many of us would not wish to accept. The point about politics is that it is about decisions, judgment and choices, and while the law has to apply to everyone equally, we as politicians and as political parties are not so obliged. We have to make judgments and decisions, and we have to carry our reputations and the reputations of our organisations with us when we make those calls.
On the changes to the MOU that the ISC suggested, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis) had the opportunity to give me the power to make those changes, but I am not the Prime Minister, so I cannot do so. The Prime Minister will have to make that decision, but I will raise the matter again with his office, because my right hon. Friend’s points were well made.
I have heard many comments about the Official Secrets Act 1989. The nature of this reform is complex and there are many and various arguments because this piece of legislation ties into so many others. I will not give my right hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) a commitment to act in this Parliament—he will understand that more work is required. As for my ability to make commitments into the next Session, he tempts me too far.
I am glad to hear that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) has achieved the great honour of being treasurer of the Scottish National party. I hope it comes with a caravan and that he is enjoying the touring that that affords him.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright) raises many good points. The reality is that these challenges must be addressed as a whole and require further discussion, so I am very grateful for his time.