Amendments to the Procurement Bill on Forced Organ Harvesting and Chinese Surveillance Cameras
My Lords, I begin by thanking the Minister. I will come back to that in a few moments, because she has been extraordinarily helpful, and I know we have made significant progress from when the first amendment was moved on this issue.
In parenthesis, before I begin—and because I will not weary the House with a second speech later, even if the opportunity is there—I would like to say how much I support what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of King’s Heath, is trying to achieve with Motion 102A and Amendment 102B. Again, I have spoken on those previously, along with the noble Baronesses, Lady Northover and Lady Brinton, the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, from the Conservative Benches, my noble friend Lady Finlay—who is unable to be with us this evening—and many others who want to support what the noble Lord is trying to achieve.
I turn to Clause 65 and Amendment 47B in Motion 47A in my name. As the Minister said, it would require a timeline for the removal of surveillance equipment that is connected to the internet and subject to the People’s Republic of China’s national intelligence law. I did say that I would like to start my remarks, and I do, by paying tribute to the Minister’s own efforts and those of her officials, who have met with me now on several occasions—most recently on Thursday last—to discuss the concerns of Members of both Houses when it comes to the presence of Chinese-made surveillance cameras in our public procurement chain.
As recently as yesterday, the Sunday Telegraph reported that the Co-op has decided to ban Chinese CCTV for “ethical and security reasons”. Given the Minister’s professional background in a previous life, she will know that, in doing this, it is following the example of Tesco. It would indeed be odd if supermarkets were ahead of public bodies in recognising the dangers posed by the CCP’s surveillance state. I was also very struck that the Deputy Prime Minister, the right honourable Oliver Dowden, speaking in another place this afternoon about allegations concerning espionage on the estate of your Lordships’ House and that of another place, made a point of saying that one of his first actions in Whitehall had been to have surveillance cameras linked to Hikvision removed from his department. This is something that Sajid Javid also said when he became Secretary of State for Health. I simply say that, if supermarkets and departments of state are not suitable places for these cameras, where is? It would indeed be odd if we did not think about the 60% of public bodies that are estimated to have Hikvision cameras in use.
This is not a new question that I am putting to your Lordships’ House; this is something I have raised on over 40 occasions in the House or in Grand Committee since 2020. Both the Minister and the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord True, have taken this issue seriously. When the noble Lord was in charge of this Bill, in its earliest stages, we had a meeting to discuss Hikvision. Because I want to get on with seeing a resolution of this issue, I am able to welcome the clear commitment from the Minister, given at the Dispatch Box, for a timetable for the removal of this surveillance equipment and these cameras from sensitive sites. However, it is worth noting, as I have said, how we got here.
As the Government have recognised, there are at least a million Hikvision and Dahua cameras in the UK, installed across our high streets, job centres, schools, police forces, hospitals, universities, local government buildings and even government departments. I gently say to the Minister that, although she is right that military barracks or GCHQ are clearly far more sensitive sites than, say, hospitals or schools, some of this is about data collection. That involves every single citizen of this country, so it poses dangers for them too. I commend to her the recent Channel 4 documentary on Hikvision and the fantastic work of IPVM, Big Brother Watch, Hong Kong Watch—of which I am a patron—and other organisations that have outlined the security risk that these cameras pose, particularly in those sensitive public sector sites, but not exclusively so.
It is quite something to consider that, as a country, we have willingly handed over the majority of our surveillance infrastructure, which watches the often public and sometimes intimately private moments of our lives, not just to the police or local authorities but to an authoritarian Government that the House of Commons has found, on a resolution of the House, credibly accused of genocide. I declare a non-financial interest as vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uyghurs.
How ironic it is that we are debating this on the day we have learned that an alleged CCP spy has been operating across Parliament, based in the office of a Member of another place. We urgently need a bicameral group of senior parliamentarians to investigate this shocking lapse. The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament has warned against the infiltration of our universities and other institutions. Only last week, the University of Cambridge ended a partnership with a subsidiary company developing Chinese weapons and military hardware. The line between crass naivety and outright collaboration is a fine one. We recall the Cambridge spies and the Soviet Union, and some of the disastrous consequences. It should send a shiver down the spine of every freedom-loving person to see swathes of the public surveillance procurement supply chain handed over to Chinese companies that are blacklisted for complicity in gross human rights violations by the United States and which are legally compelled under the PRC national intelligence law to pass on data to the Chinese Communist Party state.
As we debate the timeline for their removal from our public procurement supply chain, the definition of what we should consider “sensitive sites” and the oversight that Members of this House and another place will have should be high on our agenda. Surely, for too long government policy towards China has favoured investment and trade at the expense of our national security, our values and human rights. We have underestimated the PRC, ignored the voices of those Uighurs, Hong Kongers, Tibetans and others who have been persecuted by the CCP and know it best, and failed to produce a coherent strategy to deal with the threat that the PRC poses. I am always struck by the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, who knows a thing or two about China. He describes it as cakeism—wanting to have your cake and eat it—to want trade deals on the one hand, but recognise the country as a threat to your national interest on the other.
Despite the ongoing human rights crackdown in Hong Kong, China’s flagrant breaches of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the recent targeting of Hong Kong activists living in the UK, the Government have failed to hold any Hong Kong or Chinese official to account with targeted sanctions. I suppose at this juncture I should say that I have a sort of interest, in being one of two Members of your Lordships’ House who have been sanctioned by the CCP. Most Ministers would privately concede, if pushed, that they share the view of this House that the treatment of Uighur Muslims is credibly genocide, yet they dare not publicly state it or take the kind of actions that the US is taking to ensure that the goods that we import from China are not made by Uighur forced labour. That is why I raised that very issue, linking it not just to slave labour but to genocide, in moving my original amendment.
Last week, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, who has championed this cause in the Commons, I met US Customs and Border Protection officials to discuss customs enforcement preventing goods coming to the US from China’s Uighur region where forced labour is present. It is striking how much the US is doing to tackle the issue of modern slavery, in comparison to our own rather lacklustre approach.
These views are not mine alone but shared by the Foreign Affairs Committee in its recent report on the Indo-Pacific and the integrated review, and the joint Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on China, which both bemoan the woeful lack of a China strategy and seriousness from the Government over the security threats posed by the PRC. I commend to the Minister last week’s op-ed by Juliet Samuel, which made a forensic examination of what she described as the “King Kowtow” approach to trade with China—where, incidentally, instead of resilience we have a huge dependency and a trade deficit of over £40 billion.
Procurement and a renewal of our own industrial capacity would make a dent in that. We need a national resilience strategy, not dependency. Surely that is one of the lessons that we should have learned from Ukraine. Sadly, the Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Beijing reflects the wrong approach. He has embarked on a fixed pathway of engagement with the PRC at all costs, failing to protect our national security at home while being unwilling to learn the lessons from our key allies, who have far more developed strategies for dealing with the PRC.
The commitment by the Government this evening will not change consecutive Governments’ woeful lack of a China policy overnight, but it does offer a glimmer of hope for the publication of a timeline for the removal of what the former Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner has described as “digital asbestos” from our public procurement supply chain. The Government should reflect on the worrying reasons for the resignation of the commissioner, Professor Fraser Sampson.
When it comes to the Government’s commitment to prioritise the removal of this equipment from “sensitive sites”, which I welcome, I favour the clearest definition to cover our police forces, NHS trusts, schools, universities, government departments, military sites, transport networks and local government buildings. This clear definition will make it easier for the Government to readily identify the extent of the problem, and put in place a practical timetable for the removal of surveillance equipment that falls under the jurisdiction of the PRC’s national intelligence law after six months from the Bill receiving Royal Assent.
I welcome the commitment from the Government—the most important thing of all in the concessions that the Government have offered—to a role for Members of this House and the other place in scrutinising annually the progress the Government have made in the removal of these cameras and this equipment, and hope that the responsibility for this will be given to the Joint Intelligence and Security Committee. Finally, it is my sincere desire that we can avoid such a public procurement supply chain fiasco in the future. I hope that civil servants and Ministers will learn the lessons from allowing Hikvision and Dahua cameras to spread across the public sector and avoid such a costly mistake for the taxpayer again.
I started my speech by paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the departmental officials who have worked on the Bill. I should like to end it in that spirit as well. I greatly appreciate the concerted engagement from the Minister, the quiet diligence of officials and the Government’s openness to moving on this important issue. In conjunction with that, I also thank Sam Goodman of Hong Kong Watch, of which I am a patron, as I have said, for some helpful background work. Given the commitment today by the Minister at the Dispatch Box to the publication of a timeline, a definition of sensitive sites and the allowance of some parliamentary oversight, I will not be moving this amendment to a Division. However, the House can be sure that I will watch this with an eagle eye and return to it, should the need arise in the future.
Government Statement on the alleged CCP Westminster Spies:
My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that I, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and our families, have been sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party for, among other things, speaking out against the treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, the atrocities committed in Tibet, the threats almost daily to Taiwan and the terrible destruction of democracy and incarceration of lawmakers and pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong, including the British citizen, Jimmy Lai. Here at home, we have spoken—as many have today in the House in the preceding debates—about issues such as forced organ harvesting and the surveillance state that comes through the installation of cameras by companies such as Hikvision and Dahua, in which the noble Lord himself has taken such a keen interest.
In the light of all that, the Leader of the House will not be surprised to hear me reiterate a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby. In another place earlier today, my good friend Tim Loughton MP, who is also one of those who has been sanctioned, expressed surprise that those of us who had been put in this invidious position were not told anything about the activities that were said to be taking place across the Parliamentary Estate. Will the Leader look at that issue again and have some regard to those who obviously have a direct interest in this?
The foreign influence registration scheme contains a power to place a foreign power in the enhanced tier. That will require parliamentary approval. What is the proposed timetable? Can it be accelerated? Will the Chinese Communist Party regime be on that list? The Leader referred to the “very shortly” assurance that he was asked to give concerning the excellent report from the Intelligence and Security Committee, which says that China has penetrated.
“every sector of the UK’s economy”.
This House’s Select Committee on International Relations and Defence has also said that China is not a strategic competitor but a threat. Although it cannot be reduced to one word, as the Leader of the House said, surely it is time for us to schedule a debate. I hope that, as soon as the response from the Government is forthcoming, we will have in government time the chance to discuss the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report, along with our own reports.
Finally, will the Leader urgently consider establishing a small Joint Committee of both Houses to review infiltration, espionage, the subversion of our democratic institutions, the effects on places such as our universities, and these attempts to silence those of us who have been sanctioned by the CCP and our families?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the persistence and courage of the noble Lord—I will call him my noble friend—Lord Alton in his long-standing witness against the brutalities that he has described and the assault on democracy; for example, I refer to the oppression that we have seen in Hong Kong. I also deprecate, as the Government do, the absurd concept of people in your Lordships’ House and the other place being sanctioned—and by whom? The Chinese Communist Party. By what right do people who do not understand our freedoms in this place and our right to speak purport to sanction or threaten us?
We are very alert to some of the activities, which is why the so-called police service stations that perhaps should never have been allowed to grow in the first place have been closed down. We do not assume that they are being closed down; we are checking that they have been closed down.
The noble Lord asked specific questions about the FISA provisions, including timing and scale. If I may, I will be advised on that and write to the noble Lord, but I can say that those powers are there. I quoted the director-general of MI5 saying how welcome they are; I can assure your Lordships that we will pursue them.
I did not answer the point from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about people being informed about what had happened. I said that I had nothing to add to what was said in the Lord Speaker’s Statement about the extremely small number of people who needed to know being briefed immediately.