Cyber-Security and UK Democracy. Lord Alton tells Parliament that U.K. must reduce dependency on the Chinese CCP and develop greater resilience in British manufacturing.

Mar 26, 2024 | News

Following a statement made in the House of Commons by the Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Alton told Parliament that U.K. must urgently reduce its dependency on the Chinese CCP regime and develop greater resilience in British manufacturing, and also name the CCP for the threat which they are.

Government Statement 25th March 2024:

Lord Alton: 26th March 2024:

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

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?

Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, will the noble Baroness say something more about the hacking of the database of 40 million British people in a year when there will be a general election? Although the Government seem to be confident that it will not compromise the electoral process, does the noble Baroness think that this could be used to spread disinformation and propaganda? Has she not seen the kind of mischief-making done at a very minimal level, almost on a daily basis—often by social media but sometimes in a systematic way—to try to determine the outcome? It has only to happen in a few marginal seats to have a very significant effect in a general election. What estimate has been made of that and what more can we do about it?
Baroness Neville-Rolfe
We now have a senior FCDO civil servant as CEO of the Electoral Commission. Indeed, he has joined the Defending Democracy Taskforce which I very much value, being security vetted and so on. The noble Lord is right that some of these behaviours seem to be part of a larger-scale espionage campaign and it is disturbing that China is targeting bulk data. It seems to be part of the strategic objectives. We have been clear that it is unacceptable. I do not know exactly what conclusion to draw from that at this time, but we are obviously keeping these matters under review.

Lord David Alton

For 18 years David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons and today he is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the UK House of Lords.

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