Cybersecurity and UK Democracy - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 8:33 pm ar 26 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 8:33, 26 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I declare non-financial interests as a patron of Hong Kong Watch and vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uyghurs. As my noble friend Lord Fox referred to the sanctions imposed on seven parliamentarians, three years ago yesterday, I should declare that I am one of them. He also said that this should be regarded as a badge of honour; indeed, because my family were sanctioned with me, my feisty daughter set up a WhatsApp group entitled “badge of honour”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, raised the belt and road initiative and the role of the Foreign Secretary. I have one point to make about that. Developing countries, mainly in the global South, now have debts to the belt and road initiative totalling $1 trillion. This has made them extraordinarily subservient and often into vassal states that do the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party, particularly in the United Nations. I think the noble Baroness was right to raise the issue of Sri Lanka particularly; it requires greater scrutiny.

The biggest issue that the Intelligence and Security Committee pointed to in its much-delayed report, when it was finally published, was the potential for gullibility on the part of the present Foreign Secretary, but the rest of us too. I put it to the Minister that with a multi-billion-pound trade deficit with China, we are insufficiently resilient and have become far too dependent. This is extraordinarily complacent in the circumstances. Is she surprised that her right honourable friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith said yesterday that the right honourable Oliver Dowden’s Statement was

“an elephant giving birth to a mouse”?—[Official Report, Commons, 25/3/24; col 1266.]

The Deputy Prime Minister said it had been “swift and robust”, yet it is three years since these cyberattacks took place. That hardly makes it swift. As for robust, while parliamentarians have been sanctioned, frankly I regard that as a very minor issue in comparison with what has happened in Xinjiang, where there are 1 million Uighurs incarcerated in camps; with the destruction of democracy in Hong Kong, where there are 1,700 people incarcerated, some of them, such as Jimmy Lai, on trial even as we meet; and with the untold brutality we have seen in Tibet and the daily intimidation of Taiwan. In those circumstances, there are no grounds for being complacent.

In being robust, why is it that no public official in Hong Kong has yet been sanctioned, yet our ally the United States has sanctioned 47? What co-operation do we have with our key allies, including examining the extent of the APT31 attacks, which have been estimated in the United States as being far more significant in their magnitude than they have been here? Will the Minister re-examine the 2023 report of the Intelligence and Security Committee on the dangers posed to the United Kingdom by the CCP regime? Will she re-examine the strategic failure to declare China a threat, which was, after all, one of the recommendations of your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee, on which I served, which examined the question of China trade and security? Will we place China in the enhanced tier of the foreign registration scheme?

The Minister has mentioned Hikvision, and I pay tribute to her for the way in which she interacted when that issue was before the House as we considered the Procurement Bill; she was helpful throughout. What progress has been made in removing Hikvision surveillance cameras, of which there are about 1 million in this country, from sensitive sites? The Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday that he was open to the removal of Hikvision cameras from other sites too; what progress is being made in that regard?

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, mentioned electric cars. There was a very disturbing article in the Telegraph a few days ago about how these cars could be used for surveillance purposes. Will we allow slave labour to again be used in Xinjiang to manufacture parts and cars that can be sold cheaply into our markets while we do not give British workers the chance to manufacture such things here? Will we have to act retrospectively—as we did with Hikvision and Huawei, and now in the future will probably have to do with electric cars? Is this not just another case of closing the gate after the horse has bolted?