New Clause 24 - Offences: penalties

National Security Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:15 pm ar 18 Hydref 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

“(1) A person who commits a foreign activity offence is liable—

(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or to a fine (or both);

(b) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding the general limit in a magistrates’ court or to a fine (or both);

(c) on summary conviction in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both);

(d) on summary conviction in Scotland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both).

(2) “Foreign activity offence” means—

(a) an offence under section (Requirement to register foreign activity arrangements)(10);

(b) an offence under section (Offence of carrying out activities under an unregistered foreign activity arrangement);

(c) an offence under section (Requirement to register activities of specified persons)(3);

(d) an offence under section (Registration information)(6) committed in relation to a foreign activity arrangement registered under section (Requirement to register foreign activity arrangements) or an activity registered under section (Requirement to register activities of specified persons);

(e) an offence under section (Information notices)(7) committed in relation to an information notice given under section (Information notices)(1);

(f) an offence under section (Offence of providing false information)(1) or (2);

(g) an offence under section (Offence of carrying out activities under arrangements tainted by false information)(1).

(3) A person who commits a foreign influence offence is liable—

(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to a fine (or both);

(b) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding the general limit in a magistrates’ court or to a fine (or both);

(c) on summary conviction in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both);

(d) on summary conviction in Scotland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both).

(4) “Foreign influence offence” means—

(a) an offence under section (Requirement to register foreign influence arrangements)(8);

(b) an offence under section (Offence of carrying out political influence activities pursuant to unregistered foreign influence arrangement);

(c) an offence under section (Requirement to register political influence activities of foreign principals)(3);

(d) an offence under section (Registration information)(6) committed in relation to a foreign influence arrangement registered under section (Requirement to register foreign influence arrangements) or a political influence activity registered under section (Requirement to register political influence activities of foreign principals);

(e) an offence under section (Information notices)(7) committed in relation to an information notice given under section (Information notices)(2);

(f) an offence under section (Offence of providing false information)(3) or (4);

(g) an offence under section (Offence of carrying out activities under arrangements tainted by false information)(2).”

This new clause sets out the penalties for the offences created under the registration scheme.

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.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Ceidwadwyr, North Wiltshire

With this it will be convenient to discuss:

Government new clause 26—Offences: supplementary provision.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 3:30, 18 Hydref 2022

New clauses 24 and 26 deal with the penalties and supplementary provisions for the offences under the scheme. I start by reminding the Committee of one of the scheme’s aims: to deter foreign power use of covert arrangements, activities and proxies.

FIRS will play an important role in countering state threats. It is therefore important that the scheme should have penalties that reflect the seriousness of non-compliance within that context. The new clause makes provision for two separate maximum penalties for the two parts of the scheme. It is proposed that any offence committed under the primary registration requirement should be capable of attracting a custodial penalty of up to two years on indictment, or a fine; that is compared with an offence committed under the enhanced registration requirement, which we propose should be capable of attracting a custodial penalty of up to five years on indictment, or a fine.

The availability of a custodial penalty is a necessary reflection of the seriousness of seeking to hide or obfuscate influence or activity in the United Kingdom directed by foreign powers or entities. The penalty must be taken seriously by those engaged in the state threats activity that we are trying to counter; that would be unlikely if, for example, we were to impose only financial penalties. The offences under the enhanced measure would be capable of a higher maximum custodial penalty. This distinction is to reflect the seriousness of hiding or obfuscating arrangements and activities, carried out on behalf of foreign powers or entities, that the Secretary of State has identified as being necessary to specify in order to protect the safety or interests of the United Kingdom. I have covered the issue to some extent through my earlier explanations about the differing thresholds for offences.

I will not spend long speaking to new clause 26, given that it extends the application of clauses 28 and 29 to the offences under this part and mirrors the approach taken to exclude the public from legal proceedings in clause 31—clauses that have all been debated by the Committee already.

The new clause has several functions. First, it extends the application of clause 28 to this part so that the officers of bodies corporate and other bodies may be held liable for offences committed by those bodies. Given that a body corporate or other bodies can make either a foreign activity arrangement or foreign influence arrangement, it is crucial for the enforceability of the scheme that these bodies and their officers can be held liable should they breach the conditions set out under these provisions.

Secondly, the new clause extends the application of clause 29 to an offence under this part that is capable of being committed outside the UK. In the context of FIRS, that relates to where a foreign activity or foreign influence arrangement has been made outside the UK but has not been registered within the 10-day period. Although the activity pursuant to the arrangement must take place in the UK, the offence for failing to register can therefore be committed overseas. We have already debated the necessity of this in respect of the new clauses relating to the registration of arrangements.

Finally, this provision grants the court the power to exclude the public from proceedings for offences under this part, where necessary in the interests of national security; it is important to be clear, however, that this does not apply to the passing of a sentence. Excluding the public from proceedings might be necessary in circumstances where the Crown needs to adduce sensitive evidence as part of the prosecution—evidence that may be harmful to national security if shared more widely with the public.

For example, if a person provided false information in connection with an activity that is required to be registered in relation to a foreign influence arrangement, it might be necessary to rely on sensitive evidence to demonstrate why that information was considered to be false and what the person’s actual activities included. The provision would ensure that such sensitive evidence could be examined without the public being present. The decision to exclude the public would be made by the court, not the prosecution, and it is important to note that the power does not grant the use of closed material proceedings.

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

Government new clause 24 lays out the penalties for offences committed under the registration scheme. Subsection (1) states that a person who commits a foreign activity offence is liable on conviction or indictment to a maximum five years of imprisonment. Subsection (3) states that a person who is found to have committed a foreign influence offence is liable to a maximum two years of imprisonment. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood raised this point yesterday with officials: why the marked difference in sentencing between the different strands of activity?

Subsection (1) of Government new clause 26 states that officers of bodies corporate may be held liable for offences committed by those bodies in relation to the registration scheme. That is a welcome measure that will ensure that corporate officers and organisations will remain accountable to the registration scheme. Like the inclusion of body corporate offences in part 1 of the Bill, it reflects the seriousness with which UK businesses must treat the provisions.

Subsection (3) provides that the public may be excluded from proceedings for an offence under part 1. As the Minister said, we discussed at previous stages of the Bill that it is right to have that option where matters prejudicial to the UK’s national security may need to be cited for prosecution. However, we stress that it is a power that should be exercised only when necessary.

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

The difference between the tariffs is purely down to the different importance of a general registration and an enhanced registration.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 24 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.