Foreign Interference: Intelligence and Security

– in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 17th January 2022.

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Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:34 pm, 17th January 2022

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on foreign interference in UK politics.

I, like all Members across this House, am utterly appalled that an individual who has knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party for a number of years targeted Members of Parliament. It is a fact that this kind of activity has recently become more common, with states that have malign intentions operating covertly and below current criminal thresholds in an attempt to interfere with our democracy. Members of both Houses of Parliament should ensure that they are aware of the threat of foreign interference.

State threats to and malign influence on the UK are growing and diversifying as systematic competition intensifies. State threats are persistent and take many, many forms. In fact, we have discussed that many times in this House, given some of the terrible incidents that have taken place, including espionage, interference—that means political interference as well—sabotage and physical threats to individuals.

The Home Office has been working closely with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service for some time on potential measures to help to secure successful prosecutions for this kind of activity. I am unequivocal in the tasking that takes place with our security partners to protect our citizens and institutions from hostile state activity and foreign influence.

In relation to the MI5 security alert issued last Thursday, the parliamentary authorities, following careful and detailed discussion with MI5, issued an alert to Members of Parliament—MPs and peers—alerting them about specific individuals involved in direct political interference. In this case, the individual has well-established links to parliamentarians and facilitated political donations to serving and aspiring politicians, with funding coming from foreign nationals in China and Hong Kong. That was done covertly to mask the origins of the payments.

The individual has links to the United Front Work Department, which is the Chinese Communist Party. They have not been open about the nature of these links. MI5 concluded that this person acted covertly in co-ordination with the United Front Work Department, and is involved in political interference activities in the UK. As anyone would expect, those investigations are ongoing.

In this case, the aim was to make the UK political landscape favourable to the Chinese authorities’ agenda and, in particular—I would not question this as there is no doubt—to challenge those who raise concerns about the Chinese authorities’ activities on very pressing and pertinent issues such as human rights. Of course, this activity is not new, which is why our agencies are so diligent in the work that they undertake.

We can expect to see these kinds of alerts become more commonplace as a result of the work of our world-class intelligence agencies, which have adapted to counter these new and emerging threats. Security service interference alerts are just one of several tools MI5 can use to highlight—and thus robustly mitigate—state threats such as malign political interference activity.

Decisions to prosecute individuals are made by the Crown Prosecution Service independently of politicians, so I cannot comment in detail about the work that is under way, but all Members should know that we already have strong security structures in place in the UK to identify foreign interference and any potential threats to our democracy. This case in particular demonstrates such robust action. Those structures enabled our world-leading intelligence and security agencies to issue this particular warning.

Protecting the UK from foreign interference is absolutely crucial. Our most recent integrated review highlighted the importance of strengthening our defence when it comes to state threats, and we are at the forefront of that activity. To build on the strong safeguards that are already in place, we are developing new national security legislation to make it even harder for states to conduct malign activity. We are also taking further steps to protect the integrity of our democracy by tackling electoral fraud and preventing foreign interference in elections through the Elections Bill. We will introduce new legislation to provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with the tools that they need to disrupt the full range of state threats.

As I mentioned at departmental questions, we are working with our allies to take steps to safeguard our open, democratic societies and to promote an international rules-based system that underpins our stability, security and prosperity. We will always take proportionate and necessary action in response to foreign interference in our political system when it comes to state threats, and we will always act in the interests of our country. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:40 pm, 17th January 2022

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement on such an important national security issue and for advance sight of it. As she will know, the Labour party always stands ready to work with the Government on national security and protecting our country from foreign interference.

May I take a moment to think of those in the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue community in Texas who will still be reeling from their terrible ordeal? People must be free to worship at synagogues and other religious sites, free from fear of violence, across the world. It reminds us that we must be unrelenting in our fight against antisemitism and against extremism. It is, of course, of deep concern that the hostage taker was a British citizen. I want to give thanks to our intelligence agencies and police forces, who are working in co-operation with their US counterparts and other international partners to investigate the issue further.

To turn to the Home Secretary’s statement, the information that you, Mr Speaker, received from the Security Service last week was obviously extremely serious. We condemn in the strongest terms the attempts by China to interfere in Britain’s democratic process. I support the Home Secretary’s words on this important issue and, again, I thank the security and intelligence services for their work on this.

Obviously, there are further important questions about the extent of the deception and interference that took place in this case and the ongoing risks of malign activity from foreign states in our Parliament and across our democracy. I appreciate that the Home Secretary will be limited in what she can say in the Chamber; I am grateful to her and to the Security Service for the further briefing that has been arranged.

May I raise a concern about one point in the Home Secretary’s statement? She says that this alert shows that our system is working. The work that has been done is clearly important, but I would be very concerned if that meant that the Home Secretary and the Home Office were complacent in this area, because we have seen a series of important warnings about attempts by both Russia and China to interfere in the Russian report and in the report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, particularly with respect to the risks from foreign money. Lord Jonathan Evans has said:

“I don’t think we should assume” that this

“would be the only case. I would be astonished if there weren’t similar cases, for instance from Russia.”

He has raised concerns that loopholes for foreign money have not been closed, and has described that as

“a live and present threat” to our democracy.

The Russia report was published in July 2020, and we are still waiting for the full implementation. Nor have we yet had a proper response to the recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which is chaired by the former MI5 head. Can the Home Secretary assure us that she is not complacent about threats to our national security and to our democracy? Can she tell me when the Russia report’s recommendations will be implemented in full and when the results of the consultation on foreign state interference, which closed last summer, will be published?

When will there be a response to the Committee’s crucial recommendation on the funding of digital campaigns and to its important recommendation that more needs to be done on identifying the source of donations and the role of shell companies? Labour has tabled a common-sense amendment to the Elections Bill this very afternoon: new clause 9, which would close the loophole allowing foreign donors to hide behind shell companies. Will the Home Secretary now support that important amendment to ensure that donors to UK political parties have a connection to the UK?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

First of all, I take issue with the right hon. Lady’s overall comment: there is no complacency. There is never any complacency at all. On issues of national security, it is absolutely vital and important that all parties, irrespective of their previous opposition to aspects of protecting our country from some of our adversaries, come together.

The right hon. Lady has asked a series of important questions not just about protecting us from our adversaries and malign threats, including state threats, but in relation to the Russia report. She will be aware that the Government gave a full response to the Intelligence and Security Committee Russia report in July 2020. Many of the recommendations were already in train, co-ordinating Her Majesty’s Government, the work across the Treasury, and all aspects of Government work, led by the Cabinet Office.

That comes together in relation to much of the work around protecting democracy, which, as the right hon. Lady will be well aware, sits with the Cabinet Office and is co-ordinated through our agencies in terms of understanding where the threats are, calling out malicious cyber-activity, sanctioning individuals, working further on global anti-corruption sanctions regimes and cracking down on illicit finance. That work is clearly co-ordinated at that particular level.

The right hon. Lady also makes reference to aspects of new legislation, and I touched on that issue myself during my opening remarks. She is right to say that the consultation took place last year. Work is under way, and there will be announcements in due course about the approach that the Government are taking to new legislation on state threats.

My final comment is that when it comes to state interference it is absolutely vital that not just all Members of this House, but members of the public—we have had many debates about this during previous elections—officials across Government and local authorities are highly attuned to the implications of state threat interference in democracy and when it comes to cyber. That is why across the whole of Government there is such extensive work on systematic integration and co-operation to ensure that institutions of the state are protected from hostile state interference.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will undoubtedly be aware of the important distinction between agents of influence or covert propagandists, and espionage agents or spies. In her statement she referred to new national security legislation. In precisely what areas does she anticipate that new legislation interfering in the activities of agents of influence and of espionage agents?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. Friend has made an important point. In my statement I also alluded to the fact that, when it comes to interference and influence, there are so many facets, including in commercial and economic life. Those are the strands that we are pulling together—in fact the Security Minister, other colleagues across Government and I are developing that legislation so that we can close down that permissive environment and space where, frankly, there has been too much exploitation in the past.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thank you for your letter, Mr Speaker, and the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement. I join her in paying tribute to the work of our security and intelligence agencies and I agree with her that it is appalling that such activities have been ongoing for a number of years. Will she say a little about why the alert is happening now if the activity has been going on for a number of years? Will she address any concerns that the alert came later than it had to come?

I also welcome the prospect of a refresh of some of our national security legislation. We will work constructively on that, but will the Home Secretary confirm when we will see that legislation? Will the remaining recommendations from the Intelligence and Security Committee report be fully implemented?

In her statement, the Home Secretary said that malign actors are operating covertly and below current criminal thresholds. Is it her view that those thresholds have to change?

Finally, the Home Secretary talked about making the rules around foreign money tougher. What about the millions of pounds of donations received by political parties, particularly the Conservative party, from unincorporated associations—a type of body that the Committee on Standards in Public Life warned was

“a route for foreign money to influence UK elections”?

Will that be stopped?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

There were a number of points there, but first I will address the hon. Gentleman’s question about legislation. That will come when parliamentary time allows. Specific work is taking place on the development of that legislation in the way I have spoken about; there are many aspects to cover.

The hon. Gentleman also touched on the Russia report, where I refer him to comments I made earlier. He also touched on some of the economic elements of malign activity and influence, in particular. It is fair to say that the security alert issued on Thursday last week pointed quite specifically to the type of activity taking place in relation to lower criminal thresholds. We are going to change the laws to ensure that we can look at those thresholds—that is important work that takes place. However, there is no doubt that foreign influence manifests itself in many, many ways: economic; through our institutions—not just Parliament, and some of these institutions’ involvement are well documented; and dirty money. That has been a long-running issue and it absolutely needs to be addressed.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Conservative, South Swindon

It would seem that for some of us the old adage, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” does not seem to be well understood. The sad truth is that from time to time this activity has happened in our House. Looking to the future, and in welcoming my right hon. Friend’s statement, may I ask whether she agrees that not only is it incumbent on the Government, through their new legislation, to deal with the criminal threshold issue that she mentions, but that we must work, with the House authorities, on the granting of passes and the funding of all-party groups, to ensure that all these subtle but insidious and increasingly brazen attempts to influence Members are stamped out, and stamped out for good?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right, and I thank him for his support, not just now, but when he was in government, on these issues and on thresholds in particular. Of course, Mr Speaker, the alert last Thursday was issued in conjunction with the parliamentary security directorate, and there is work that we will provide support on in terms of vetting and security. It is right that we all come together, not just across law enforcement, but with the intelligence services, to ensure that we close down any gaps that have been exploited by those who want to do us harm.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

The Home Secretary has been very robust in defending the Government’s response to the ISC’s report on Russia. In the light of recent events, has she had an opportunity to review the clear recommendations in that report, particularly those pertaining to the Palace of Westminster and what we need to do?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

First, let me welcome the new Chair of the Select Committee and congratulate her on her election. There is no question—I should be very clear about this—but that we learn all the time about gaps and about not just new threats, but the type of tactics and techniques used by those who want to do us harm. It is right that we review absolutely every facet of security here. I come back to my earlier point about protecting democracy from malign interests. Working with the Cabinet Office in particular, which oversees this, that is effectively what we are doing.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Of course it is shocking that any Member of this House should allow themselves to be used by a foreign power, but one problem we have is that this issue is not suddenly emerging. We have now a real problem with China. There are more than 13 organisations hell-bent on such purposes, hiding in public view, working with the United Front and other organisations to report back to China. We know that there are four people we have failed to sanction that the Americans have sanctioned for complicity in the Uyghur genocide that is going on. The Government have got to get tougher even still. The problem is that in the integrated review, which she rightly referred to, we referred to Russia as a threat but to China as a “systemic challenge”. Given that the head of MI6 said that the “single biggest priority” for MI6 was

“adapting to a world affected by…China” does she not think, as I do, that it is time to change our position and call China the threat that it really is to us?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. Friend speaks a great deal of sense on this issue. He has highlighted and spoken clearly about the direct threat, which we have seen, in this House alone, when it comes to undermining our democracy. I am very conscious that a number of our parliamentarians have been sanctioned by the Chinese Government for rightly speaking out—we live in a free country and an open democracy, and we are privileged to do so—against abusive actions of the particular Government at hand. It is right that we constantly review all our threats from adversaries, which manifest themselves in different ways. I can give him my complete assurance that I will be working with my colleagues across Government to make sure that that absolutely happens.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

Through you, Mr Speaker, may I please thank Members from all across the House for the kind messages that I have received over the past few days? I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and the work of the security services in protecting Parliament. Will the measures she has announced help MPs to get extra support when making the required checks about the true source of any donations? She will know that the security services told me that their alert was based on specific intelligence of illegal funding, which did not relate to the donations that paid for my office staff. Those ceased in 2020. Is she able to tell the House what steps she is taking to ascertain where the tainted money ended up?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

First, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will continue to work with the intelligence and security services and co-operate with them at the highest level with regards to the alert that has been published and also to the areas that he has referred to. It is a fact that, across this House, we will come together to do everything possible to protect the integrity of our democracy and all hon. Members from such malign interference and threats. I also look forward to working with you, Mr Speaker, to close down some of the permissive loopholes that have been so publicly exposed in the last few days.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

It is a great pleasure to hear my right hon. Friend’s statement today. The work she has done on defending this country from foreign interference, and on protecting British nationals under threat of Chinese state propaganda and influence, has been impressive, from her work on the Foreign Affairs Committee to her work in the Department on protecting British nationals overseas. May I ask, building on the questions that my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith rightly asked, what more we are going to do to ensure that this dirty money does not come into our community? She will remember that the work she did on the Committee in 2019 raised the idea of a foreign agents registration Act, which would have exposed to criminal prosecution those who put money into our system to undermine our democracy.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend knows my views on the whole area of foreign agent registration. This is not shining a spotlight any more; this is putting the full beam of transparency on to the dirty money that comes into our country. If I may have your indulgence for a second, Mr Speaker, let me say that for those of us who have spent time reading banking reports and financial reports, following the money that has had the most corrosive influence in some of our institutions has been self-evident. I have already referenced the new legislation that will come forward. This is an area that we are keen to pursue, working with our colleagues across Government, and that is something that my Department will lead on.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

I completely agree with Sir Iain Duncan Smith. We have to have our eyes wide open about the possible infiltration of British politics by Iranians, Russians and from China. The Government should indeed be sanctioning Chen Quanguo, Zhu Hailun, Zhu Changjie, Huo Liujun and, for that matter, Carrie Lam. They have been undermining human rights both in Hong Kong and in China. However, my biggest anxiety is that we have been saying for a long time—ever since the Home Secretary was on the Foreign Affairs Committee with us and we produced the “Moscow’s Gold” report—that we need to ensure that it is illegal to act as a foreign agent in this country. The Intelligence and Security Committee report says quite clearly in paragraph 1.11 that this still is not the case. I know that she has been consulting on it, but can I just tell her to get a blasted move on?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman makes his point very powerfully; no question about that. He knows the work that I am trying to push forward, and the need to bring forward the legislation. We have had the consultation—we have to consult, clearly—and as I have said already, we are going to be bringing forward the legislation. We need the parliamentary time to do this, but we have a busy timetable—[Interruption.] No, we are absolutely working to do that.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I declare an interest as someone who has been banned, not bunged, by the Chinese Government. Mr Speaker, you boldly and rightly banned the Chinese ambassador from coming to the Palace of Westminster when seven parliamentarians and our families were sanctioned by China. Does the Home Secretary agree it will be right that anybody determined to be an agent of influence, or people close to them, have no place coming to this place or any Government Department, sharing our resources and having access to Ministers, parliamentarians and intelligence? Will she also ensure that there is a proper audit of the activities of the United Front Work Department and the harassment and intimidation it brings to members of the Chinese diaspora across the country?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend articulates very clearly the extent to which, across the board both here and in the diaspora, we have been experiencing intimidation and harassment. Having brought forward the scheme to secure British nationals overseas, I heard the most harrowing tales of the most appalling abuse of people from the BNO community who were subjected to all sorts of dreadful things. My hon. Friend is right, and I want to give assurance on a number of fronts. First, not just in relation to Parliament and this House but across Government, I make it clear that we are auditing individuals who could or may have had access to Government and Government Departments over a period of time, as well as auditing meetings that may have taken place not just with Ministers but with officials. These alerts will be shared with officials not just in Whitehall but across the country, including in local government, because we know that the footprint is much wider than just the heart of Government.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. It is truly sickening that anyone would attempt to infiltrate our Parliament, circumventing the security of this place and even of Prime Ministers. I am also deeply concerned that, following a massive spike in racist attacks levelled at east and south-east Asians during the pandemic over the last two years, this serious incident may cause an entire community and ethnicity to become targets for abuse yet again. What will her Department do to ensure that does not happen?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. Lady for making that important and powerful point. Of course racism and racist abuse against any community is abhorrent, and we have to work to stamp it out. She is right to highlight the fact that, throughout the coronavirus pandemic—this is a tragedy and awful to know—the south-east Asian community have been particularly vilified and subjected to racist abuse.

It is right that not just the Government but the Home Office, working with our community partners and the police, do everything possible to ensure that any racist incidents are dealt with in the right and proper way and that we give the right protective measures, awareness and support to members of that community.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

The granting of a parliamentary pass is a real privilege, and I think that all of us should take responsibility by helping the House authorities and the Security Service when we are looking at people for our own offices, because we have the right to nominate people. We bear responsibility for checking out these individuals. May I suggest, from my previous experience in the military, that one way of doing that is to make each and every one of us sit down with anyone who wants a pass or who comes into our office and jointly go through a detailed form, with very detailed questions, and jointly sign it?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I return to my earlier comments about vetting and the support that is currently in place. We can work together to close down any issues of concern. For the assurance of not just all right hon. and hon. Members but the British public, who will no doubt be watching this debate and wondering how on earth any malign influence could enter the heart of our democracy, we will continue to work collectively to make sure we put all the protective measures in place.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

In her statement, the Home Secretary said it was a fact that this kind of activity has become more apparent, but the United Front Work Department has been in existence since 1949, it has a budget of £3 billion a year, and for many years it has used useful fools to propagandise its arguments. May I ask the Home Secretary about universities in particular? There is evidence, certainly from Australia and other countries where tough action has been taken, that the Confucius Institutes are backed by money from the United Front Work Department. Is it not about time we closed them down, and is she content that the Department for Education is responsible for monitoring this?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Gentleman referred first to the prevalence of the activity that we are seeing. Yes, there is more activity, for a number of reasons. Technology changes, these threats evolve and develop with time, and tradecraft adapts and evolves as well. That brings me to his second point, which was about our academic institutions. This is the subject of an ongoing discussion. I have been in many committees where it has been raised, including the ISC, and it is being discussed across Government. He asks whether the Department for Education is doing enough. We have spent a great deal of time working with the Department.

Let me say something about the legislation that we want to introduce. We are learning from other countries, such as Australia—indeed, I had a bilateral meeting just last week. This is also part of the work of Five Eyes. A lot of work is being done to look at the institutional impacts of hostile state activity, alongside issues such as foreign agent registration. We want to get this right through future legislation, and that is what we are working on.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

This is a really important issue, and one that has lessons for all parliamentarians and all political parties. It seems to me that the crucial issue, as the Home Secretary has highlighted, is the whole business of foreign donations and cash being used for inducements. That is the main reason why, during the 10 years in which I have chaired the all-party parliamentary China group, all our sponsors have been British organisations. Does she agree, first, that we need to get a grip of the whole issue of foreign donations, wherever they come from, because third-party countries can be used as well? Secondly, does she agree that the Committee on Standards needs to look more closely at whether any individual parliamentarian needs to be investigated? Thirdly, does she agree that while of course we must rise to the systematic challenge of China that was raised in the integrated review, we do not wish to avoid any engagement with a nation that is a fellow permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and with which we have much important business to do?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes a number of points. In relation to the House, standards and transparency, there are already measures in place, as we know, and greater work will take place, as I have said. Obviously we will support all aspects of Parliament to ensure that when more work can be undertaken on transparency, it will indeed be undertaken. When it comes to China’s role in the world, in multilateral institutions and organisations, and our own values versus the type of values that the Chinese Government are proposing around the world, I think it is fair to say that there are many difficult issues. The House recognises that, as do I as Home Secretary and the entire Government. I have already alluded to issues such as human rights abuses, whether they involve the Uyghurs or even BNOs, whom I have helped assiduously. I have set up a bespoke scheme to ensure that they are safe, despite the measures that the Chinese Government are putting in place. We as a Government will always stand up for what is right in the world. That means international law and the rules-based system, and it means calling out those who have behaved in an appalling and inappropriate way in respect of some of the issues that I have touched on.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I remind the House that I serve as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary groups on Uyghurs and on Hong Kong, and that I am a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, which is chaired by Sir Iain Duncan Smith. I heard what the Home Secretary said about the implementation of the ICS’s Russia report. I hope that there will now be a bit more urgency in the implementation of its recommendations, not least because we expect the publication of the Committee’s China report before too long. May I also say to the Home Secretary that if this is to be done effectively and the House and indeed this Parliament can then present a united front to the outside world, she should now be working with all parties across the House to build the consensus necessary to implement those recommendations?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. On issues such as national security and intelligence co-operation, he is privy to much of our work and will understand the approach that we take. When it comes to legislation that is under development, we know that there are just so many aspects on which we need to legislate. I have already touched on criminal thresholds and the changing nature of the threats. We are also looking at schemes that are already running in other countries—jurisdictions overseas—to see how we can apply them to our own jurisdiction. It takes time to work through them, but I give the House every assurance that we will work in a collaborative way on these measures.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Two years ago, I wrote a paper on how to bring in a foreign lobbying law into the UK—the Security Minister has a copy of that. With great respect to the Home Secretary, I think that these scandals will just carry on, as they have been doing ever since I came to this place, until we update our espionage laws, until we update our domestic lobbying laws, and until we bring in a foreign lobbying law. The Australians and the Americans—examples I looked at in the paper—have robust laws that cover banking, finance, law, politics and information. We need such laws, because otherwise these scandals will just keep on coming, as sure as eggs is eggs.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has also just touched on the wide-ranging nature of threats. That covers, as I have said, institutions, finance and all aspects of direct harm to individuals. As he will know, there is a great deal of work taking place on the economic and financial front. I know that he and the Security Minister discussed much of that as well. Let me assure him that, through the work that we are undertaking—he is welcome to have further meetings with us on this—he will see the way in which we are pulling these strands together and, importantly, learning from some of the other countries to which he has referred, including in his own report. We are looking to create similar schemes, but obviously within our legal framework and within the lawful way in which we can implement them.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Defence)

The Chinese state holds a 33% stake in Hinkley Point, a 10% stake in Heathrow airport, and a 9% stake in Thames Water. Moreover, a number of the UK’s top universities have ties with Chinese military-linked research centres. For more than 18 months now, Labour Front Benchers have been calling on the Government to undertake a comprehensive audit of every aspect of the UK-China relationship, so that our businesses, universities and public figures are aware of the risks and the threats to our national security. Will the Home Secretary now agree to get this audit underway as a matter of the utmost urgency?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and indeed for setting out the context of the question. He highlights the extent to which China has been investing in the United Kingdom across our utilities, various aspects of business, our institutions and academia, as we touched on earlier. The National Security and Investment Act 2021 is a response to many of the things that have taken place, predating many of us in office and some aspects of this Government as well. We must not only constantly keep a watching eye, but review and look at the investments that are coming into the United Kingdom. That work is taking place across the whole of Government.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Conservative, Wealden

I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. The word “covert” has been used quite a bit, but the Chinese Communist party is acting in plain sight. It is threatening the House and it is threatening MPs, and then it sanctions MPs who expose what it is up to. My question to my right hon. Friend is this: where is the organising force of this Government? I respectfully say the same to the Speaker: where is the organising force for this House in defending our democracy and also ensuring that we are not complicit in genocide? What support is being provided to parliamentarians who have been sanctioned, and to those individuals who gave evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Committee, especially the World Uyghur Congress, which feels threatened in this country? Why are we not blacklisting firms that are selling our data to the Chinese Communist party and selling us products made by Uyghur slave labour? Finally, will she do everything she can to get the individuals who run those prison camps in Xinjiang sanctioned—in particular, Chen Quanguo?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend not just for her question but for her commitment and the work that she has been leading on. I thank all parliamentarians who have been so vocal on many of the abuses that have been well rehearsed and debated in this House.

On the support for parliamentarians who have been sanctioned, which is a really important point, that is where the House needs to be strong, and we are coming together with the parliamentary authorities to ensure that measures are put in place. She asked where is the might in Government. When it comes to defending democracy—as she will know, because she will have had discussions with my colleagues at the Cabinet Office as well—we lead on this, and, with other Departments, absolutely work in an aligned way on the specific details. A great deal is taking place that covers all aspects of threats. I touched on institutions, education and business, and the National Security and Investment Act, but there are also spaces such as cyber, and direct threats to individuals too.

My hon. Friend asked about sanctions on key individuals, and she is not the only Member to touch on this. I have heard the calls from all Members who have spoken on this issue and I will be raising it with my counterparts in the Foreign Office.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Our relationship with China has rightly evolved from the “golden decade” heralded by former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne. Today Members across the House have raised issues of political interference, university research technology transfer, the diaspora presence here, human rights, and investment in this country. The Secretary of State seems to imply that the work on the National Security and Investment Act will address all these issues, but it will not. Will she commit to the audit of UK-China relations that Labour has been calling for?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

A whole raft of work is taking place, not just on China but in relation to the integrated review, and I am sure the hon. Lady has seen that. There will be new legislation coming forward. A great deal of work, much of it unspoken, takes place with our security and intelligence agencies that influences the work on China of Government, Government Departments, and the agencies within Government. It is right that we do absolutely everything we can. New threats evolve, technology advances and tradecraft advances as well. That is why we put very significant investment and resource into not just law enforcement but our intelligence agencies, who inform Government Departments and Ministers in terms of the approaches that we should be using.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton

The actions of the Chinese Government towards Members of this House, and apparently now within this House, are unforgivable. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how, within the counter-hostile state Bill, we could put in place protection not only for Members of Parliament but for all British nationals when hostile Interpol red notices are placed on them? Does she agree that every Member of this House should be taking it upon themselves to make sure that we do not act as helpful idiots for our enemies?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend has summed it up quite well. Of course I will be happy to meet her in relation to the legislation that is under development. There is a very poignant note here. We have touched on defending democracy and exposure to Parliament by those that seek to do us harm, but it goes much wider than that, as I have already mentioned: to different institutions, to officials, to civil servants, and across the board. Everyone should be very, very well attuned to the types of engagements that they are having from individuals and what their motivations are.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

It goes without saying that we all have to do everything we can to prevent foreign influences from buying their way into our democracy, but there is an opportunity to deal with an aspect of that today—the shell companies that can be used to hide resources of money that is being used for that purpose. Why are the Government not supporting that move today?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Work is under way in looking at that whole area. In fact, the Security Minister is also working with his Treasury colleagues and counterparts. A lot of work has taken place on it, and we are happy to write to the hon. Gentleman directly to give him an update.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Will the Government outline the action that they are going to take to work with UK businesses and universities to ensure that they are more resilient and effective at protecting their data, research and intellectual property from theft and interference by foreign Governments?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I reassure my right hon. Friend that much of that work is under way through the National Cyber Security Centre, which not only constantly puts out alerts across the board but has direct engagement with those institutions. That work, of course, will continue.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Labour, Lancaster and Fleetwood

Further to the Home Secretary’s answer to my hon. Friend Clive Efford, tonight this House will debate the Elections Bill. Although it is important to ensure that we can close loopholes that allow foreign money to flood into our British democracy, it is also important to ensure that we do not create new loopholes. I draw her attention to the changes that will allow millions more citizens who are overseas to donate to British politics. In the light of what she knows from the Russia report, which the Minister responsible for the Elections Bill has not read, as she told us in Committee, can she say whether the Bill makes us more or less safe from foreign interference in British politics?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is important to say that the Elections Bill covers a whole range of aspects, such as protecting democracy and electoral reform. It is important to recognise the work that is taking place across the board with the Cabinet Office. I know that Cabinet Office Ministers will speak much more about that later.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I start by paying tribute to our outstanding security services, which keep us safe day in, day out. I have been astounded by the eye-watering sums that some individual parliamentarians received from Christine Lee and organisations connected to her. Does my right hon. Friend think that those individuals should pay back those sums, if not to the people who donated them, perhaps to a charity connected to human rights in China?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend raises some tantalising recommendations, it is fair to say, for consideration. It is important that anyone who has been in contact with the individual or who has received anything from the individual continues to co-operate with our intelligence and security services.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

Friday’s announcement came as a surprise to many people, but not to many in Hendon, because it was in fact my predecessor, Andrew Dismore, who established the British Chinese Project in Parliament. He subsequently went on many trips to China and the Hendon Labour party received more than £6,500 in donations. When I was first elected, representatives who I can only presume were connected to this individual came to me and I rejected their overtures. I agree with Stephen Kinnock that we need an audit of what has gone on in our political system and in our civic society.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes an important and valid point. I would like to speak to him about some of the points that he makes.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble

Half a million quid is a lot of money. If I had had that, I would probably have had a deeper scratch and sniff at it. However, by accident or whatever, people are seeking to undermine our democracy. Can my right hon. Friend tell me: are we are going to nick ‘em, are we going to lock ‘em up, and are they going to face criminal charges?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend robustly makes her point. She will have heard in my statement about the issue with the CPS, the approaches that it takes and the criminal threshold. There are ongoing investigations that I cannot comment on, but a review of criminal thresholds will take place, because we need to see action taken against individuals who undermine our democracy.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, House of Commons Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

I would like to add that, quite rightly, we will work closely, between the Home Secretary, the services and this House, to ensure that Members are kept safe and that we put the right protection in place. I also stress from this Chair that I think the sanctions against Members of this House and of the other House are wrong, and the time has come for China to lift them. The sooner it does that, the sooner trust can be rebuilt. While they exist, however, trust will always begin to fail.