New Clause 7 - Obtaining etc material benefits from a foreign intelligence service

National Security Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:00 pm ar 8 Medi 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

(1) A person commits an offence if—

(a) the person—

(i) obtains, accepts or retains a material benefit which is not an excluded benefit, or

(ii) obtains or accepts the provision of such a benefit to another person,

(b) the benefit is or was provided by or on behalf of a foreign intelligence service, and

(c) the person knows, or ought reasonably to know, that the benefit is or was provided by or on behalf of a foreign intelligence service.

(2) A person commits an offence if—

(a) the person agrees to accept—

(i) a material benefit which is not an excluded benefit, or

(ii) the provision of such a benefit to another person,

(b) the benefit is to be provided by or on behalf of a foreign intelligence service, and

(c) the person knows, or ought reasonably to know, that the benefit is to be provided by or on behalf of a foreign intelligence service.

(3) Material benefits may include financial benefits, anything which has the potential to result in a financial benefit, and information.

(4) A material benefit is an excluded benefit if—

(a) it is provided as reasonable consideration for the provision of goods or services, and

(b) the provision of those goods or services does not constitute an offence.

(5) A benefit may be provided by or on behalf of a foreign intelligence service directly or indirectly (for example, it may be provided indirectly through one or more companies).

(6) Subsections (1) and (2) apply to conduct outside the United Kingdom, but apply to conduct taking place wholly outside the United Kingdom only if—

(a) the material benefit is or was, or is to be, provided in or from the United Kingdom, or

(b) in any case, the person engaging in the conduct—

(i) is a UK person, or

(ii) acts for or on behalf of, or holds office under, the Crown, or is in Crown employment (whether or not they engage in the conduct in that capacity).

(7) In proceedings for an offence under subsection (1) by virtue of retaining a benefit, it is a defence to show that the person had a reasonable excuse for retaining the benefit.

(8) In proceedings for an offence under subsection (1) or (2) it is a defence to show that the person engaged in the conduct in question—

(a) in compliance with a legal obligation under the law of the United Kingdom,

(b) in the case of a person having functions of a public nature under the law of the United Kingdom, for the purposes of those functions, or

(c) in accordance with an agreement or arrangement to which—

(i) the United Kingdom was a party, or

(ii) any person acting for or on behalf of, or holding office under, the Crown was (in that capacity) a party.

(9) A person is taken to have shown a matter mentioned in subsection (7) or (8) if—

(a) sufficient evidence of the matter is adduced to raise an issue with respect to it, and

(b) the contrary is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.

(10) A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years or a fine (or both).

(11) A person who commits an offence under subsection (2) is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or a fine (or both).

(12) The following terms have the same meaning as in section 3—

“financial benefit”;

“foreign intelligence service”;

the “law of the United Kingdom”;

“UK person”.”

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause contains two offences concerned with obtaining, accepting, agreeing to accept or retaining a material benefit from a foreign intelligence service. These offences add to the new toolkit for law enforcement and the intelligence agencies in responding to espionage activity.

FIS operations in the UK run contrary to our safety and interests. In order to operate successfully, a FIS needs to recruit, fund and support networks of agents to support their undeclared activity in the United Kingdom. One of the most important motivating factors that a FIS is able to deploy to recruit agents is financial inducement or the provision of benefits in kind. It is often the case—this is reflective of the tradecraft of such organisations—that only the money or other material benefits can be evidenced to a satisfactory criminal standard. The new offence will enable early intervention to prevent further harm from being caused and will further strengthen our ability to prevent FIS activity, building on clause 3.

The first offence, in subsection (1), concerns a person who obtains or accepts a material benefit for themselves or another person, or who retains a material benefit, from a FIS. That could involve obtaining or accepting legal or school fees intended for someone else’s benefit. Some benefits are excluded benefits, which I will come on to in a moment. That offence would attract a maximum penalty of 40 years.

The second offence, in subsection (2), concerns a person who agrees to accept a material benefit from a FIS for themselves or another person, which is not an excluded benefit. This offence, where no benefit is obtained, accepted or retained, would attract a maximum penalty of 10 years. For both offences, the benefit must also be provided by or on behalf of a FIS, and the person must know, or ought reasonably to know, that the benefit came from a FIS.

We must be alive to the tradecraft of foreign intelligence services and their ability to adapt and potentially overcome any narrow definitions in this area. Accordingly, we have drawn the meaning of “material benefit” wider than just financial benefit. Material benefit will include money and money’s worth, such as gifts. It will also capture wider benefits such as information, including information on a business arrangement, as well as anything that has the potential to result in a financial benefit. We have safeguards in place to ensure that legitimate activity is not brought into scope of the new clause.

Subsection (8) replicates the defences in clause 3, which means that a person does not commit an offence if they are complying with a legal obligation, conducting public functions or acting in accordance with an agreement to which the UK is a party. As with other offences in the Bill, Attorney General consent must be obtained before prosecution.

In addition to those protections, the new offences have an additional layer of protection in the form of the excluded benefit for those who have legitimate reason for receiving a material benefit—for example, because they provide services to diplomatic missions in the United Kingdom that are known to accommodate declared intelligence officers.

Under subsection (4), a benefit is an excluded benefit if it is provided as reasonable consideration for the provision of goods or services and the provision of goods and services does not constitute an offence. For example, a shopkeeper does not commit an offence by selling groceries to a person who happens to be a member of a FIS. Another example of the type of contact that is excluded through this exemption is a person who lives in Northern Ireland and works in the Republic of Ireland for the police force.

The effect of introducing the concept of an excluded benefit will mean that in cases where someone is believed to have committed an offence of obtaining a material benefit, the prosecution would need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the benefit was not an excluded benefit.

In addition to the concept of an excluded benefit, we have made provision for a reasonable excuse defence in subsection (7), which relates only to the offence of retaining a benefit contrary to subsection (1). This has been done to allow people who, for example, may be unable to return a benefit and so are forced to retain it. It will also enable law enforcement and the intelligence agencies to target those people who do not have a legitimate reason for retaining such a benefit. Although, crucially, subsections (4), (7) and (8) allow us to take a wide range of legitimate activity out of scope, we have been careful to ensure that the offence captures all types of activity we are concerned about.

The definition of a FIS would include a police force or other body with intelligence functions, which is the same definition found in clause 3. As I said when I introduced that clause to the Committee, we have drawn it in that way because it is increasingly common for organisations and foreign Government agencies to undertake activity more traditionally associated with intelligence services.

Espionage activity is not solely the domain of intelligence services, reflecting the whole-state approach we see in countries around the world. In terms of the territorial scope of the clause, as set out in subsection (6), we have ensured that material benefits received in the UK are captured by the offence, regardless of where they are provided from.

We consider that the conduct in subsection (1) is sufficiently serious to warrant the availability of the enhanced tools and powers in the Bill, including the powers of arrest and detention, the new financial powers the Government seek to introduce by amendment, and state threats prevention and investigation measures. The Government intend to achieve that through the addition of this offence to the definition of foreign power threat activity in clause 26 at Report stage.

While the conduct in subsection (2) is also serious, we do not consider there to be an operational need to make the full suite of powers available in relation to this aspect of the offence, given that including the offence in subsection (1) within the definition of foreign power threat activity means that those powers are available in relation to the commission, preparation, instigation and facilitation of that offence.

In summary, we must provide the tools for our world-class law enforcement and intelligence agencies, whose heroism and courage does so much to protect us, to respond to the modern espionage threat posed by foreign powers. We cannot allow covert intelligence activity in the UK to go unpunished, and nor can we allow UK nationals and companies, as well as embassy staff overseas, to be co-opted into working for a foreign intelligence service. Tackling the whole-state approach to state threats and espionage is of huge importance to protecting our safety and interests.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 4:15, 8 Medi 2022

Before I turn to the detail of new clause 7, I appreciate that the Minister is not responsible for some of these challenges, but throughout the process of the Bill there has been a great deal of support for seeing the detail of the legislation scheme that makes up the basis of most of these new Government clauses. We probed consistently and asked that we could see the detail of that as soon as possible, given that as we came into the presentation of the legislation prior to Second Reading, it was a key factor that the Government promised would be a component part of the Bill.

The Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Stevenage, made a commitment that that would be added to the Bill before we returned from recess for the second Committee sittings of line-by-line scrutiny. Most of the Government new clauses were tabled just last week—I think they were tabled last Tuesday and published on Wednesday. In that sense, his predecessor upheld that commitment in principle but not in spirit.

The new clauses were tabled only last week and there is a great deal in them to get through. We certainly want to support these provisions, but there is a lot to interpret and understand, and we want to have the opportunity to engage with those who can make use of these provisions so that we can do our due diligence at this point. I am not being unreasonable and I am being kinder to the Minister than the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Dr Lewis, was to the Minister’s predecessor’s predecessor, Damian Hinds, on Second Reading, but I want to put it on record that we may be forced to return to the Committee with more detail once we have had the opportunity to consider these provisions further.

Turning to the detail, as the Minister has said, Government new clause 7 creates new offences of obtaining, accepting, retaining and agreeing to accept a material benefit from a foreign intelligence service. The clause is explicit in referencing material benefits from a “foreign intelligence service”. In relatively recent instances finances have been traced back, not to intelligence agencies as such but to forms of Government Departments, such as the United Front Work Department, referred to by the Chinese Communist Party as one of its “magic weapons”. Are the definitions in this clause too narrow to capture those kinds of transactions?

Subsection (7) says:

“In proceedings for an offence under subsection (1) by virtue of retaining a benefit, it is a defence to show that the person had a reasonable excuse for retaining the benefit.”

Given just how tight the definitions in relation to this offence are as the Bill stands, referring exclusively to a foreign intelligence service, I am keen to understand what might constitute a “reasonable excuse” in that situation.

We have worked through the notion of and the thresholds of proof around the phrase “ought reasonably to know” in earlier proceedings of this Committee, which I appreciate the new Minister might not yet be across. In subsections (10) and (11), pretty serious custodial sentences are outlined, as the Minister said, for committing offences under subsections (1) and (2). So I would be grateful to learn what the fines would be for those offences.

A query was also put to me following a specific overseas case as to whether someone who is in receipt of benefits of a sexual nature could be prosecuted under this new clause. If someone were to offer sex in exchange for information in such a way that it could be proven that they knew or ought reasonably to have known the purpose of that activity, could that lead to a prosecution on the basis of the sex being a material benefit, in principle, under the Government’s new clause?

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

I broadly welcome the new clause, because it is obviously another weapon in the armoury to counter foreign state interference, but I just want some clarification to be made in terms of the broad nature of what is actually being proposed.

One of the examples that I want to raise is the issue of academia. As my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax has already said, the United Front Workers Department of the Chinese Communist party is active across the globe and influencing academics and even legislators here in this country and in other countries, for example, Australia. So I just want some clarification about how someone would get caught under this measure.

As I say, one example is academia. I cannot remember who—I was trying to rack my brains to think of the name of the academic at Harvard University who I think is currently being prosecuted in the United States. It relates to the definition of “intelligence service”. We know that the Chinese Communist party does not work directly; it will work through front organisations. As I say, I am trying to think of the name of the academic in the US; it will come back to me in a minute.

However, let us suppose a British academic is approached by an entity in China or an individual based here, who then says to that academic, “Will you do some academic research? Will you write a paper for us?” And they give the academic money for that. There are examples of this happening, and I think that in the example from the United States, which is currently ongoing, the academic then received a retainer for providing research information for a Chinese university. I think there is evidence that suggests that that was a way in which the Chinese Communist party or the Chinese security services were funnelling money to academics.

I would be really interested to know how we will differentiate between the academic who quite clearly wants to do research, and co-operation with China. The benefit they get—for example, being paid for a visit to a conference, for an academic paper or for research—does not fall within the scope of this measure, because, to be fair to the academic, the source of the funding might not be clear—it might be clear in some cases, but not in all.

I can understand if, for example, the security services approach an academic and say, “Are you aware that your money for your paper is coming from x intelligence agency?”, and the academic says, “Oh well, I’m not bothered. I’ll keep on doing it.” That is fine. However I just want to know—and I think some guidance has to be given to academics.

The other example is a bit closer to home, which is my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner, who received large amounts of money from a woman called Christine Lee. She made quite a substantial donation for him to run his office. I am still baffled as to the reason why, but still. It was proven later that that she was working on behalf of the Chinese Communist party and the Chinese Government. Would an individual like that—a Member of Parliament—be dragged into this, under the new clause?

Certainly, I am sure that most of us, if someone offered us half a million pounds, would actually want to know why we were getting it, but people make their own decisions. Would that be classed under this? There are clear examples of the Chinese in particular using academia as a cover for intelligence gathering and actually funding things that will obviously influence, such as stealing academic research. For example, if a paper is normally worth £1,000 and someone is getting £20,000 for it, does that mean that the rest is a bung and that they should really raise questions about it? I doubt many academics are going to be saying, “I am not worth £20,000”. It comes back to the point on this, which I would like some more information on. I am not against what is being proposed, but I think that it has some issues that will raise alarm bells in certain sections, and academia is certainly one of them.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I will pick up on the second set of points first, if the hon. Member for Halifax does not mind. I will pick up on those points because I am glad that it is not just me who is baffled at what the United Front thought it was gaining from this relationship. I think we are all equally mystified, but it appears that they had the resources not to care.

It does suggest, however, that we have to take this extremely seriously in all of our duties—not just when we talk about people outside this place, but when we talk about people inside this place because we have a particular responsibility to the service of our country and our communities. So I think that this needs to be looked at extremely carefully. I am not going to go into individual cases for various reasons, except to express surprise.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

It is wider than just that one case because, when the ISC did its Russia report, there was clear evidence of certain Members of the House of Lords, for example, being given posts as consultants and other things. Whether there is any proof that they were actually given by the intelligence services, I do not know, but it has certainly, in some cases, raised certain questions that ought to be asked.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there are certain individuals in our society—some of whom, sadly, have seats in this Parliament—whose actions are questionable and demand further investigation. He can be absolutely assured that that is something that I take extremely seriously. He knows that I drafted a policy paper a long time ago on updating our Terrorism Acts. This debate is not about that, but there are various reasons why I took that seriously so many years ago and why I am very pleased to be doing this job. I accepted this job from the Prime Minister because this is a matter that I think is of enormous importance in the United Kingdom, particularly today. I will not go into the details of it, but he can be absolutely assured that I will be looking at it as soon as I have got my feet a little bit further under the desk, if he will forgive me.

These provisions, of course, do apply in various different ways, and he has highlighted some of the ways in which foreign intelligence services pay agents. Disproportionate or excessive payments can be considered in different ways, such as bribery. While the individual in question may of course claim that they were worth what they were paid, I think a reasonable benchmarking process would normally establish that they were, at best, surprised, if not actually encouraging the situation, which was not conducive to the safety of our country.

I am not, as I have said, going to go through individual cases, but this entire new clause refers to benefits in various different ways, such as to a benefit received through a business; it does not have to be direct. I am going to have to come back to the hon. Member for Halifax on her question about the nature of sexual inducements. I cannot answer that question now, but I will come back to her.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

I accept that the Minister has done a lot of work in this area. Would it be possible for Committee members to be briefed on the reason for this provision, but also how it will act in practice because, once it is implemented, guidance is going to have to be given to companies and to academia? I think just getting some understanding of how it would work in practice would reassure many of us in Opposition.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 4:30, 8 Medi 2022

Personally, I commit, absolutely, to engaging with Committees, not just the right hon. Gentleman’s own. The Intelligence and Security Committee is an important one. This Committee is another one, of course, but the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and various other Committees would, I am sure, have an interest in this area. I absolutely do commit to engaging to ensure that this clause is understood properly.

I would add, however, that to be a benefit in this area, and to be in scope of the offences, it would need to be a material benefit, so either money or money’s worth. Forgive me, I have received an answer. Before bringing a prosecution, a careful consideration of the nature of the benefit and the circumstances would be undertaken. A person has to know that they are obtaining a benefit from a foreign intelligence source, and there are several protections to avoid capturing legitimate activity. Legitimate activity, of course, as I said, refers to supporting an embassy that is in pursuit of its diplomatic functions or working with a police force, for example in the Republic of Ireland when an individual lives in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Halifax also made points about the timing of this. I appreciate that entirely, and I entirely respect her position. We must ensure that this goes through with the consent of the House.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

The Minister is being very helpful, but could I clarify something? If, for example, somebody received a benefit from a university, but it was subsequently found that the money was coming from a foreign intelligence agency—or if someone did work for a company then found out that it had been involved—that person perhaps did not know that. Am I assuming that, as it is written, if they continued after they were made aware of it, then they would fall into scope? If they could actually say that they did not know about it, is that a defence?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The right hon. Gentleman is exactly right. The point of the defence of “reasonable” is that, in order for this to be an offence, the individual needs to be aware that the benefit is supplied by a foreign intelligence source. Therefore, so long as they are unaware of it, it is not an offence. When they become aware of it, it is an offence.

The last point that I wish to make is on the delays. I know that the hon. Member for Halifax will understand that the Ukrainian situation, and a certain change of Government office holders most recently, may have interrupted the provisions. However, on that note—

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I am really grateful to the Minister. I appreciate that he is winding up. I think, if I have understood his response to my question about sex in exchange for information, that, for something to be a benefit, it would have to have a monetary value. Therefore, if there was an exchange of sex for information, that could not be prosecutable under this new clause.

I just wanted to say that because a case was brought to my attention. Partly because I am reluctant to gather any further information by typing the word “sex” into a search engine on the parliamentary estate—I am always incredibly reluctant to do that, for obvious reasons—I could not establish any further details about a specific case. Will the Minister undertake to have a look at that in a bit more detail, just to ensure that we have not missed anything through narrow definitions within this clause?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The hon. Lady can be absolutely assured that there is no way that I would like to leave out any form of inducement that a foreign intelligence service could use to entice somebody to commit a serious crime. Therefore, of course, I would be very happy to look into that.

The clause, as written, says:

“Material benefits may include financial benefits, anything which has the potential to result in a financial benefit, and information.”

Therefore, it is pretty broadly worded. I will talk to officials about how we could make it clearer if that is necessary, but I will certainly undertake to do that. Before I sit down, I will just say, God save the Queen.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 7 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Scott Mann.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 13 September at twenty-five past Nine o’clock.