National Security and Investment Bill – Second Reading | Lords debates

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part at Second Reading. I declare my interests and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, on his maiden speech. I am supportive of the Bill and wholly supportive of the comments of my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lord Leigh of Hurley. It is right that we salute innovators, founders and entrepreneurs, those who produce something where nothing existed before. They deserve all our gratitude.

We have the right environment for investment in this nation. The policy environment and the rule of law make the UK an excellent place for inward investment, and indeed, there is no contradiction. Our national prosperity is inextricably and rightly linked with our national security. In my comments I will cover definitions, the notification regime, the ISU and some associated points.

On definitions, we have a national security Bill with no definition of national security. Without broadening the scope of the Bill, does the Minister agree that a broad definition of national security would be helpful here, without taking it to the extent of other nations, where yoghurt producers and bottled-water manufacturers can come within scope of critical national assets? Similarly, it is right to note where national security and national interest come up against one another and sometimes overly overlap. We have seen in recent times, when the pressure was on, Australia reducing the quantum for referrals in its regime to zero. Similarly, with share ownership under the French regime, it has gone from 25% to 10%. These changes are at least interesting.

As for the notification regime, I am a supporter of the identified sectors—but there are difficulties, as other noble Lords have pointed out. Artificial intelligence, for example, is not a vertical sector or even horizontal, but more a coming ubiquity, and how it is dealt with is central to what is within this Bill. Similarly, on the numbers of referrals—12 in the past 18 years under the previous regime—as other noble Lords have commented, with 1,000 to 1,830, if you apply a multiple to that you will probably get closer to the level of referrals that will occur. Can the Minister say why a business would not refer, for want of certainty?

Similarly, on the impact assessment setting out those numbers, there does not seem to be any basis on which those numbers have been arrived at. I worry that, although it is positive that the information required for notification has dropped by two-thirds, microbusinesses are included, which could cause an unnecessary burden for them. We already have a significant scale-up problem in this nation.

On the ISU, there are questions about its digital capability, level of budget and number of personnel. It could, in reality, through notification, suffer from swampification. We have already seen this with the National Crime Agency. Can the Minister tell us what is being done about those 100 people in terms of their skills, their security clearance and their deep knowledge of the technologies involved?

With retrospection, we see a five-year period. Five years is quite a way from what was originally set out in the Green Paper and the White Paper. As for the overall intent of the Bill, I am supportive, of course. However, in Clause 7 most corporate entities are covered, but there seems to be a loophole in terms of individuals. No matter how small it is, is that a loophole that the Minister would consider closing? On oversight, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord West, that there needs to be an addressing of this democratic accountability deficit, and the ISC is the proper place for this to occur.

In conclusion, we have a good Bill. Does the Minister agree that with delicate, nuanced and proportionate amendments, we can make it a great Bill for national prosperity, national interest and national security, for today and for all our tomorrows?

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