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National Security and Investment Bill

Volume 811: debated on Wednesday 28 April 2021

Commons Reason

Motion A

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendments 11B and 11C, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 11D.

11D: Because it is appropriate and sufficient for oversight and scrutiny of decisions made by the Secretary of State for BEIS to be conducted by their departmental select committee.

My Lords, here we are again. We return once more to parliamentary scrutiny of the National Security and Investment Bill. It is of course always a pleasure for me to be in your Lordships’ company, so to be here twice in one day on this legislation and once on a Statement repeat is obviously a treat of the highest order.

Noble Lords will have seen that the other place once again rejected the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord West, by a further significant margin. Let there be no doubt that I welcome and value the considerable expertise that noble Lords have put into their amendments and proposals. In addition to their expertise, I now have the opportunity to further compliment their stamina and resolve.

However, as I said earlier today in this House, in our view the BEIS Select Committee remains the most appropriate committee for scrutinising the operation of this regime by the Secretary of State for BEIS. I have already put forward the Government’s arguments in this regard on a number of occasions, so I will not try your Lordships’ patience much further. Assurances have now been provided, both in this House and the other place, that there will be no barriers to effective scrutiny by the BEIS Select Committee. In particular, its handling of material, be it confidential or classified, will be appropriately dealt with.

I know your Lordships have some scepticism on this claim. I am not sure what else I can say to reassure noble Lords, other than that my department will work closely with the BEIS Select Committee and its chairman to ensure that effective scrutiny can and will take place. Of course, there will be times when further scrutiny by other committees is appropriate—for example, the Science and Technology Committee or even the Intelligence and Security Committee. As this House has heard in previous debates, there is also nothing stopping these committees carrying out the important work that falls within their respective remits.

I now look to this House to respect the clear wishes of the other place and to acknowledge our rapidly dwindling time to pass this essential Bill. I therefore hope that this House will now support the Government’s Motion and allow the Bill to pass. I beg to move.

My Lords, the sands of dissent are passing through the hourglass of incredulity. The Minister is right; there has been a long debate. It is very nice to hear that he values the expertise and that he has been able to hear it. It is disappointing that, having valued it, he considers it insufficiently valuable to take the advice that the expertise came up with.

Some time between our last meeting and this one, an email came through from Darren Jones, the chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, setting out the fact that an MoU has been exchanged on the subject that we are debating. There is one curious sentence in there, which states:

“I have had to protect the position of my own committee …”.

It is late and I will not press that, but it smacks a little of someone being strong-armed, which is a shame.

The other sentence comes at the end of the email’s penultimate paragraph, which states:

“Should my Committee find any of our scrutiny of the Investment Security Unit is inadequate, we will of course make that clear on the record.”

That is somewhat reassuring. I know that Darren Jones is someone whom one can trust, and I am sure that if he and his committee find that to be the case, that is what will happen and we will of course be listening and watching for it.

We look forward to the Statement being brought forward for debate in both Houses as a consequence of the Bill, and we look forward to debating the technologies that will be put into the Bill.

My Lords, it is a treat for us to have the Minister here again. He says that there is some scepticism in the House about this matter. I think that there is some mystification, actually. It is said that when he heard about Talleyrand’s death, Metternich said, “What did he mean by that?” There is a bit of me that, as a historian, wonders how historians looking at this in the future will ask, “What was going on? What did they mean by that?”—to have such a squabble, and to go back and forward at the end of a Bill that we all agree is important, over the possible addition of five words in a memorandum of understanding. That is what we have got down to. And I remain mystified. One day, maybe long into the future, when the noble Lord and I have gone on to other things but are still in the land of the living, we may sup together and hear what was really behind the resistance to amending the memorandum of understanding simply to allow one committee to look at the work of the unit.

Having said that, we are pleased that we are now at the end of the Bill. We wish it and the new unit in the Minister’s department well. We talked previously about the number of notifications that it may have to deal with. There is a real challenge there. We seriously wish that unit well as it begins to take on and embed what this soon-to-be Act will enable it to do.

My Lords, the hour is getting late and I will not try your Lordships’ patience. It remains for me to thank the last two indomitable warriors on this subject, the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, once again for their help, support and the valuable scrutiny that they have provided to this legislation.

The legislation has changed as a result of your Lordships’ efforts. I know that there will be disappointment in those noble Lords’ parties that we were unable to agree on this final point but, nevertheless, the House has done its work well. The Bill has been improved as a result of the work of this House, but it is now time to let this matter rest. As I set out earlier, the Government have made their case. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that I will not repeat that case, which was made both in this House and the other place. Let me finish by saying that I appreciate the strength of feeling on this matter and I am sure that we will have further discussions as the work of the ISU takes place. We must now ensure that the Bill is passed.

Motion A agreed.

House adjourned at 9.36 pm.