Providers of legal services will be exempt from requirements to register as agents of a foreign power under proposed security legislation, the government revealed today.  It was announcing the introduction of the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme under an amendment to the National Security Bill.

The announcement said the scheme will 'increase the transparency of political influencing activity being carried out for a foreign power or entity; help safeguard UK democratic institutions from covert influence; and better inform us as to the nature, scale, and extent of foreign influence in our political affairs’.

The scheme will be two-tiered, the government said. The primary tier will require the registration of political influence activities within the UK 'at the direction of a foreign power or entity'. A person registering will need to declare who they are in an arrangement with, what activity they have been directed to undertake, and when the arrangement was made.

Exceptions to those who would need to register include those working for a foreign power in their official capacity, those with diplomatic immunity, those who provide legal services, those working for news publishers and those in an arrangement to which the UK government is party.

Failure to register or providing false or misleading information would be punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.

An enhanced tier allows the home secretary to make it an offence for anyone to carry out any activity in the UK at the direction of a specified foreign power or foreign power-controlled entity without being registered. The penalty for offences involving the second tier would be up to five years imprisonment.

The public register will be posted on a government website.

MI5 director general Ken McCallum said: 'The new Foreign Influence Registration Scheme will make it harder - and riskier - to operate covertly in the UK at the behest of a foreign power. It will also increase openness and transparency around the scale of foreign influence in our political affairs and make it harder for our adversaries to undermine our democracy.'

Earlier this year, the speaker of the House of Commons identified a London solicitor in an 'interference alert' about alleged activities on behalf of China. 

The National Security Bill is currently in its House of Commons committee stage.