Security Threat from China

Home Department – in the House of Commons at on 15 April 2024.

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

What recent assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the level of the security threat from China.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I thank my hon. Friend enormously for raising this question. Let me be clear that the hostile activity we have seen from Chinese authorities and state-affiliated groups poses a serious threat to the security and wellbeing of the British people and to our partners and allies across the world. The Deputy Prime Minister came to this Chamber last month to speak about the pattern of malign activity, including the targeting of our parliamentarians and two malicious cyber-campaigns by Chinese state-affiliated actors. We must never be afraid to stand up for ourselves and to call out this kind of activity that has targeted both my hon. Friend and me.

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

Mr Speaker, may I add my personal condolences to you on the loss of your father?

I say to my right hon. Friend that we had the scandal of the hacking of MPs’ email accounts back in March and we subsequently learnt that the FBI informed our Government—as well as foreign Governments who had legislators who were affected—about these incidents two years ago. Why has it taken two years for us to be told about a serious security breach? Will he now, with his colleagues in Cabinet, make sure that China is absolutely treated and labelled as a threat, not just an “epoque-defining systemic challenge”, and everything is done urgently to put China in the enhanced tier of the foreign influence registration scheme?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My hon. Friend, who has given this House and our country exceptional service over many years, and who will sadly be standing down at the next election, has again made some strong points. On the first, he knows the language that I use and he has heard the words I have said. The reality is that we face threats from around the world, and many of them sadly are emerging out of Beijing today. We know it, we have seen it, and many of us in this House feel it. It is not something we are shying away from. The reality, however, is that there are many different ways of answering it. He has raised an important aspect on FIRS, which of course is being looked at, but he will have heard the words of the Deputy Prime Minister in this Chamber only a few weeks ago and how clearly he made himself heard.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

I am sorry, but I am not convinced by the Government’s attitude on this. When the Deputy Prime Minister came to see us a few weeks ago, he did not say anything new; he announced things about events that happened two years ago. The Security Minister himself knows of attempts by the Chinese Government to undermine the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee of this House. Why are we only ever told about things that happened years ago? If we are to take these issues seriously, we surely have to have an up-to-date and present account of the activities of the Chinese state.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The hon. Member will well know that, when there is a reason to act quickly and draw something to the attention of the House, we do, as was the case with Christine Lee, which he will remember involved the payment of money to a certain Member of this House. The reason we took that action was because we needed to expose it fast.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

The Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner said last year that our policing and security services were technologically vulnerable because of their use of Chinese-made equipment, including CCTV, drones and body cameras. Can the Minister say whether the digital asbestos of Chinese-made technology is still used in our policing and security infrastructure—yes or no?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My friend the hon. Member will know well that the work of Fraser Sampson before he retired or ended his mandate last year has been fantastically important to many of us in making sure “digital asbestos” —I approve of the term—is got out of our institutions. This is something that is ongoing. It has got out of the most secure sites already, but there are other areas where there is work to do, because an awful lot of sites bought technology that would now be problematic. It is not just static sites; there is potential that some electric vehicles could be easily turned into mobile intelligence-gathering platforms by hostile states, so it is about looking not simply at the past, but at the future.