The National Security Bill 2022-23 is wide-ranging government legislation which would introduce measures designed to protect the UK against an evolving range of threats. In so doing, it would update and replace the existing framework for dealing with such threats contained within the Official Secrets Acts (OSA) 1911, 1920 and 1939. The bill would not introduce widespread reform of many of the provisions in the OSA 1989, however, which has been a source of debate and controversy. 

The government contends that the new bill is necessary because this security architecture was designed according to traditional perceptions of the threat posed by hostile foreign powers such as Nazi Germany. Threats in the modern world look very different and can take many different forms, from cyber operations to political interference carried out by a range of different actors. Consequently, the bill would implement a range of measures to deal with hostile state activity, including espionage, sabotage, and foreign interference in elections. It would also introduce new sanctions and police powers, such as arrest and detention without a warrant, and for state threat activity to be taken into account as an aggravating factor in sentencing. 

The bill follows a review by the Law Commission and has been welcomed by the security services. However, the bill omits some elements of the Law Commission’s recommendations—such as the creation of a public interest defence for journalists and others charged with unauthorised disclosure under the 1989 OSA, for example—and some of its provisions have also been criticised by observers such as the Joint Committee on Human Rights. 

In Parliament, opposition parties have supported the aims and purpose of the bill. However, they too have raised several concerns, including changes to the legal basis for the security services and armed forces to act overseas; the public interest defence and lack of reforms to the 1989 OSA; legal aid provisions; and the role of the Independent Reviewer, a post which would be created by the bill to monitor the implementation of certain provisions.  

The bill was first introduced in the House of Commons and was significantly amended by the government at both committee and report stages. This included the introduction of a foreign influence registration scheme, requiring those acting for a foreign power declare their political influencing activity. This briefing examines those issues ahead of second reading in the House of Lords on 6 December 2022.

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