Relations with China: Xi Jinping Presidency — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:24 pm on 16 March 2023.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice) 2:24, 16 March 2023

It is a pleasure to follow Tim Loughton and Jim Shannon, who secured the debate. I am reminded of the days when I used to have to read case reports. I would read the lengthy and definitive judgments and then I would come to one that just said, “I concur”, and I would fall on it like manna from heaven. To the two hon. Gentlemen who have already spoken in the debate, I say, “I concur”.

I will make two points. My first is about the position of people coming here from Hong Kong under the British national overseas sponsorship scheme. Last night, I had the enormous pleasure of spending time at a symposium at the London School of Economics, run by the Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Services Society. It highlighted the importance of understanding that for all those Hongkongers who have settled here, their arrival is not the end of the story; it is just the beginning. The trauma of leaving their home in the way they had to will have caused many other issues, and our obligation to support them did not stop when they cleared passport control at Heathrow airport.

My more significant point is about not so much the position that has been outlined at some length, but the approach of Ministers and Government officials in response to it. Today in the main Chamber, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster managed to make a whole statement about TikTok without using the words “China” or “Chinese” once.

Last Wednesday, in this very Chamber, I initiated a debate on genomics and national security. In his reply, the Minister responding said something quite remarkable:

“I had been prepared to pay tribute to the work of BGI”

—that is the Chinese genomics giant—

“when my officials pointed out that at that point Genomics England was suffering several hack attacks from BGI each week.”—[This section has been corrected on 8 March 2023, column 2MC —
read correction]

Stalin at the height of the Soviet Union could not have improved on that. I have no doubt that the correction was initiated by officials as a consequence of the representations that they then had. Clearly, they were not of a mind to stand up to those representations and the pressure that was being put on them. Genomics needs to be part of our critical national infrastructure; the Government need to move on that. From what we see, the time has now surely come for BGI Group itself to be the subject of a security review by the United Kingdom Government.

If we are to be serious about the way in which we rebalance our relationship with China, we need to get the balance between trade and human rights right. Sir Iain Duncan Smith and I were both members of Cabinet in the golden age, so we have seen how it used to work. We understand that that has to change. That would be a good point at which the Government could start. If the Minster could express a view on that, I think we would all consider our time today to have been very well spent.