18 October 2022
Urgent Question: Chinese Consulate: Attack on Hong Kong Protesters

Jesse Norman, Minister at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, responds to an Urgent Question on representations he has made to the Chinese Communist party following the attack on Hong Kong protesters at the Chinese consulate in Manchester.

The Minister for the Americas and the Overseas Territories (Jesse Norman)

Top of the morning to you, Mr Speaker, and thank you very much indeed for allowing us to have this urgent question on a topic of enormous importance. May I start by recognising, thanking and welcoming my hon. Friend to her position as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee?

As the House will know, His Majesty’s Government are extremely concerned at the apparent scenes of violence at the consulate of the People’s Republic of China in Manchester on Sunday afternoon. Greater Manchester police had been pre-notified of the demonstration and intervened to restore order; we are grateful to them for their action. I understand that Greater Manchester police have launched an investigation to establish the facts of the incident.

The Foreign Secretary has issued a summons to the Chinese chargé d’affaires at the Chinese embassy in London to express His Majesty’s Government’s deep concern at the incident and to demand an explanation for the actions of the consulate staff. It would be inappropriate to go into further detail until the investigation has concluded, but let me be clear that, as this House has always recognised, peaceful protest is a fundamental part of British society and our way of life. All those on our soil have the right to express their views peacefully without fear of violence. FCDO officials expressed that clearly to the Chinese embassy yesterday. We will continue to work with the Home Office and Greater Manchester police colleagues to decide on appropriate next steps.

Alicia Kearns 

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this UQ and for the personal interest you have taken in this over the last few days.

On Sunday, peaceful protesters gathered outside the Chinese consulate to campaign for human rights in Hong Kong. What we saw was the Chinese consul-general then ripping down posters during a peaceful protest. There soon followed grievous bodily harm against Hong Kongers, one of whom was hospitalised for taking part in that peaceful protest. Some were then dragged on to consulate territory for a further beating by officials who have been recognised to be members of the Chinese Communist party. We cannot allow the CCP to import its beating of protesters and silencing of free speech, and its utter failure time and again to allow protest on British soil.

This is a chilling escalation. We have seen continued persecution of the Uyghur, Tibetans, Hong Kongers and all those who come to our country to seek refuge. What took place on Sunday suggests they cannot seek refuge here and have their voices heard, and our job is to make sure their voices are not silenced.

I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that the ambassador has been summoned. I am surprised the meeting has not taken place so far. Will he please confirm when it will be taking place and that he will update the House thereafter? Will he also confirm that any Chinese official involved in the beatings will be prosecuted and that, if they cannot be prosecuted, they will be expelled from this country within the week, and what the Government are doing to protect protests? That is a fundamental right and we must uphold it at home if we are to have any chance of upholding it abroad.

Jesse Norman 

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. On the point of the summons, my understanding is that the chargé d’affaires will meet with officials this afternoon, there having already been an informal exchange of concern between the two sides. My hon. Friend will know that, precisely because of the belief in this House in the rule of law, it is up to our independent police and Crown Prosecution Service to decide first on the facts of the matter and then on whether a prosecution should be brought. But, like her, I witnessed what took place in the video on Sunday and I am sure every Member of this House feels the same level of concern as she does.

Mr Speaker 

I call the shadow Minister, Catherine West.

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)

I am so pleased that there is consensus across this House that freedom of expression is an important principle which we hold dear in our democracy, and it is testament to our freedoms that on countless occasions in recent years protesters have been able to express their views, whether on China, Russia, Myanmar or countless other countries.

What we saw at the weekend in Manchester was, as the Mayor of Manchester has said, a sharp departure from this established pillar of our liberal democracy. The sight of suspected Chinese consular officials destroying posters, using violence and intimidation, and dragging a protester into the grounds of the consulate and assaulting him is deeply shocking. We all want to be clear that that behaviour is not and never will be acceptable and deserves condemnation in the strongest possible terms. We simply cannot tolerate the type of action we have seen. The principle of free expression is so important, as is the protection of Hong Kongers and others who have fled Beijing’s repression, although I note with irony that later today we will be debating a Government Bill that discusses some of the same themes.

Labour has been consistently warning about the need to protect newly arrived Hong Kong people. May I press the Minister on what exactly will happen to consular officials who have been properly identified as involved in this incident? Can this House expect that they will be expelled from the UK?

What discussions has the Minister had with the Home Office and Levelling Up Secretaries on a proper plan for robust and extensive support for Hong Kong people across the country to ensure that they are protected and supported in the face of ongoing surveillance and oppression? What steps will he take to ensure that the sanctity of our freedoms—specifically, the freedom of expression—is protected outside all foreign embassies and consulate grounds in the UK to avoid a repeat of this shocking behaviour? Mr Speaker, as you said yesterday, the Hong Kong community in the UK is watching, and actions must match words.

Jesse Norman 

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. She asked about the treatment of consular officials. Of course, I would wish to be able to give the House details of my personal views on these matters, but the fact of the matter is that we are in a process of law. I would expect that process to be diligently and effectively carried out, but, for reasons that she will understand, I cannot comment on it.

As regards the treatment of Hong Kong visitors and arrivals to this country under the new scheme, my colleagues in the Home Office and the Levelling Up Department have taken great measures to put in place a welcome set of arrangements for them and to manage the processing in an effective and timely way. I am pleased that we have done that because we need to support Hong Kong in all the ways that I am sure she would welcome.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) on getting the urgent question. I also congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on pursuing it, quite rightly. I do not understand why the Government could not have put forward a statement today, even if that was to say what they have said today. I am afraid it really does show a little bit the Government dancing away from this in the hope that something else will turn up.

We have spoken to the individual who was hauled in, and I want to mention a couple of points from the statement that he is giving the police. He confirms categorically that the guards at the gate hauled him in, tore his hands and his hair, and beat him. He said that at least four people were kicking him and, for one minute at least, tearing his hair. He said:

“My head, face, arm, body and back are hurt—especially my back. It is very painful.”

He said that he struggles at the moment even to sit down. That is happening on British soil. The Government has now got to step up and answer this simple question, asked earlier by my hon. Friend: has the Secretary of State not just called on the chargé d’affaires but hauled in the ambassador directly to see him? Will the Secretary of State now be prepared to expel the consul-general and any of those found to have been part of that punishment beating and vandalism? All I want is a simple, “Yes. If there is evidence, we will expel them.”

Jesse Norman 

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I do not think that there is any suggestion of dancing away. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton, in her position as the recently elected Chair, put the question. We respect that, and we worked with the Speaker’s Office and with her to answer it. That is exactly what we are doing now, and rightly so.

As to my right hon. Friend’s question, it is of course a question of law as to what offences were committed on British soil, and it is absolutely right to have a legal procedure that goes through that and examines the question in all its aspects. As to summoning the ambassador, I thank my right hon. Friend for his input. We have already outlined the process of raising the matter formally with the Chinese embassy, and we will see where the legal and prosecutorial procedures may lead. At that point, we will take further action.

Mr Speaker 

I call the SNP spokesperson.

Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)

I commend the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee for bringing forward the urgent question and, you, Mr Speaker, for granting it. This is an important thing for us all to take stock of. I take at face value the Minister’s assurance of consequence once the independent investigation has completed. I invite him to come back to the House and make a statement once that investigation is concluded, because we need to maintain our interest in it.

There has been concern for many years about the networks of coercion and control that the Chinese state has over Chinese nationals in the UK. Will the Minister add to his efforts and bring Confucius Institutes into his thinking? There are networks that need a lot more scrutiny than they have had. If Manchester proves to be what we fear it was, it was a considerable escalation of the Chinese networks of coercion and control, and the Confucius Institutes need to be part of the investigation.

Jesse Norman 

Of course, there is enormous interest in this topic, and not just on the specifics of particular events but on the wider geo-strategic question of the relationship between China and the rest of the world, and its respect for the rules-based order. Of course, I understand that. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will apply to Confucius Institutes and has within it some important new measures to track foreign influence and to ensure that it is publicly held to account. As I wrote the original amendment as a Back Bencher on which they are based, I must say that I feel a certain degree of pride in that area. It was not aimed at any particular country, but it can absolutely be used in relation to the Confucius Institutes.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con)

My constituents will be alarmed at what they saw happen in Manchester. I recognise that the Government will have to maintain a constructive dialogue amidst a complicated relationship with China, but let us be really clear that the Chinese regime have shifted in their behaviours in recent years. The behaviour on the streets of Manchester demonstrates that shift. I urge my right hon. Friend not to hold back in facing up to the reality of the new dynamics of the relationship with China. We must remain constructive, but we must also face up to the fact that we now have very different values from those in China.

Jesse Norman 

I thank my hon. Friend very much for his intervention. He is absolutely right. The point of constructive engagement is to do what we can to retain China’s respect for the international rules-based order, while also noting and concerting with allies to exercise influence where we can on any breaches in that area. He is absolutely right to point that out. Let me say one other quick thing. The many overlapping areas in which we and our allies interact with China require a nuanced and constructive approach, but the point about doubling down is absolutely right. Let me remind him that although the integrated review is not about any specific country or region, it is going through a refresh at the moment, and it will take account of emerging, current and expected future threats.

Mr Speaker 

I call the Member whose constituency was involved, Afzal Khan.

Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)

I have joined peaceful protests outside the consulate countless times and I am sickened that such an event took place in my own constituency. The scenes, which are reminiscent of the aggressive intimidating tactics of the Chinese Communist party, have no place on the streets of my city or our country. The UK stands for freedom, the rule of law and democracy. The crushing of peaceful protest will never be tolerated on British soil. The Minister knows that the consul general has diplomatic immunity, so he cannot be prosecuted. Will the Minister take immediate action and declare the consul general as a persona non grata, and what steps will he take to protect pro-democracy activists here in the UK?

Jesse Norman 

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his question. I completely understand the personal constituency interest he has in this set of events and in previous events and activities around the consulate. He is right, of course, to say that the UK stands for freedom, the rule of law and democracy. I could not have put it better myself and that is exactly right. He is also right to ask the question about persona non grata. We cannot anticipate the results of a legal process, but I have already told the House that we will take action once we have a full understanding of the facts and the prosecutorial decision—[Interruption]—allowing chuntering from all sides if necessary, from a sedentary position. Let me just say, finally—[Interruption.]—if I may, that he is also right to focus on the victim. That is a crucial aspect—my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) mentioned it—and it is something we expect local government, as well as central Government, to be supportive of, to the extent that we possibly can be.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con)

Yesterday, as patron of Hong Kong Watch, I had the privilege to meet about 50 admirable and mainly young people who have moved here from Hong Kong and are keen to engage in community life and, in some cases, political life in the UK. They deserve our support and encouragement, so will the Minister confirm what steps are being taken to address concerns of the Hong Kong community about potential intimidation and threats from the Chinese state apparatus on UK soil in respect of those who wish to engage in this way?

Jesse Norman 

My hon. Friend will be aware that, in relation to Hong Kong, we have ended the extradition treaty and taken a number of other steps designed to recognise the seriousness of the issues. Of course, we have also, vitally, opened the British national overseas route to Hong Kong residents, and more than 100,000 people have applied for that; that is an incredible infusion of energy and genius into our polity and we should absolutely welcome it. We have extended that, in part in response to concerns in this House, via an amendment to be tabled today, to the adult children of BNO-eligible people, so that they, too, can feel that warm welcome we should be extending to those people.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

China has no respect for the rule of law and its attitude is aggressive; it thinks it can do whatever it wants and get away with it—this House needs to say that it cannot. Reports suggest that one of the consulate staff who assaulted the pro-democracy protestor was the consul general, Zheng Xiyuan. Does the Minister agree with me and others in this House that if the consul general is found to have led the attack, he should be declared persona non grata by His Majesty’s Government and sent, along with the others involved, back to China, where he belongs?

Jesse Norman 

The hon. Gentleman asks whether action will follow “if” what he sets out is found to be the case. I am not going to comment on a hypothetical, but he is right to recognise that there has to be a process of determination before any action can follow. Let me say one other thing that relates to the point raised earlier about the rule of law, human rights, freedom and democracy. There is an ideological clash here and we should be aware of it. We should not be shy in recognising it and we should do what we can to insist on the importance of the rules-based order that we have always stood for as a nation. We should encourage allies to be talking in those terms, rather than to be ceding ideological ground, whoever may be on the other side of the argument—there are various parts of the world in which different arguments are being made against this. That is ultimately the core of what this institution of Parliament is about.

Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness) (Con)

The concern is ultimately that China is taking the same attitude to human rights in this country as it is taking at home. Many of us have raised that concern and it is not my understanding that we need to follow through a legal process prior to expelling people who are involved in this. Will the Minister say why he believes we need to follow that process?

Jesse Norman 

I think my hon. Friend has misunderstood me, as I have not said that there needs to be a legal process; I have said that there has to be a process of determining what the facts are. That has already been conceded by Members from across this House, and it is important that we have not only our private views as to what may or may not have been on video, however well founded they may be, but an official view based on proper scrutiny.

Sarah Owen (Luton North) (Lab)

As the Minister is hiding behind process on a number of these issues, I will try a different tack. What steps is he taking to work with colleagues in the Home Office to ensure that police officers are adequately trained and aware of the cultural and political sensitivities when protecting the thousands of Hongkongers who are seeking safety in our country, especially when people have been attacked by Chinese communist party agents or suspected CCP agents? We know that what we saw outside the consulate is not an isolated incident.

Jesse Norman 

As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, there is no question of hiding behind process; we have a rule of law in this country and we allow legal processes to go through. We allow processes of fact and determination before action is taken. That is entirely appropriate, and it is what one would expect from a country that professes to be the home of the rule of law, as has been rightly said. However, it is important to say that police forces are extremely concerned about and sensitive to the kinds of issues that the hon. Lady raises. Indeed, I do not need to tell the House that the Greater Manchester police deal with a very wide range of ethnicities and concerns, and have specific training in order to manage those issues in a sensitive and engaged way.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con)

I welcome the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) and the fact that a proper investigation into this will be held. But even before these incredibly worrying scenes that we have all seen, concerns were being raised in both the British and Irish press about an informal network of Chinese overseas police service stations. Constituents of mine who are deeply worried about that have contacted me and asked me to seek ministerial action on it. Will the Minister confirm that there is no legal standing for such organisations? If we are summoning Chinese diplomats and officials, may we ask them for an explanation of these stories about such networks?

Jesse Norman 

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important point. My understanding is that such organisations have no formal status of any kind in this country. The concerns of this House are understood and very much reflected in the concerns that my officials and those in the respective parts of the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities have.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) on securing this urgent question and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting it. Had these incidents happened on the streets of Hong Kong, there would rightly have been outrage from the British Government. They happened on the streets of Manchester, in this United Kingdom, yet the Minister is basically sending a memo to the Chinese embassy and an offer of a cup of tea and a chat with the ambassador. We want the ambassador to be brought to the Foreign Office and told in no uncertain terms that these actions are against the rule of law and against human rights in this country. Any Chinese agent found responsible for the disgraceful actions in Manchester should be on the first plane back to Beijing.

Jesse Norman 

There is a massive difference between this country and the situation in Hong Kong: in Hong Kong there are genuine, proper concerns about whether there is anything approximating the rule of law, in the sense that we would understand it. So when we express anger as individuals, as parliamentarians and as concerned citizens about this, that is, in part, what we have a concern about. I do not think, however things may appear in the short term, that this is a question in this country. We will pursue this situation and these people according to the rule of law, and we will follow up on that basis.

Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)

I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) to her new position; it is great to see a member of the ’29 intake taking on that role. I also welcome the Government’s statement so far, although I just hope they can go a bit further and faster. Does the Minister agree that this might be the most visible and violent manifestation of the long arm of the CCP? Will he also ensure that more underground and less visible bullying and intimidation by CCP agents, such as on university campuses in this country, will also be exposed and challenged at every opportunity?

Jesse Norman 

Young, youthful and vigorous as the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee is, the intake of ’29 might not be quite the right one for her. Of course I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) and it is wonderful to see that 2019 generation coming into positions of great authority in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) raised the point about covert activity and he is right to double down on that and discuss it in the context of universities. He will also understand that we have rules now on foreign influence coming into play, in terms of registration, that are, in part, precisely designed to identify those people and institutions and bring them within a more explicit and transparent framework.

Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)

I thank the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) for securing the urgent question on this shocking incident. It was a flagrant breach of human rights on British soil, but we should not allow ourselves to think that it was an isolated one, because we know that it is not. My constituency houses the Chinese consulate in Scotland, and I am regularly contacted by young Hongkongers in Edinburgh who are concerned about the level of surveillance and intimidation. I have experienced it myself when speaking at a Hong Kong protest in Edinburgh, where we were filmed by a drone operated be a gentleman sitting nearby. It is not acceptable that this is happening on UK soil. For young Hongkongers who were born after 1997 and do not hold BNO passports, having to travel to consulates to have their special passports renewed is a particular fear for many of them. So will the Minister find a way of issuing travel documents so that they do not have to go on to the grounds of the consulate, where they now, rightly, might fear that their safety is jeopardised?

Jesse Norman 

The hon. Lady raises two interesting points. There are aspects of our open democratic society—such as the use of drones—that can be used in a very intimidating way. She is absolutely right to point to that, and it raises a longer-term issue for our security and wellbeing. On the consulates, I thank her for her suggestion, which needs to be taken very seriously; I am grateful for it.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)

At a time when relationships with China were improving, I was a guest at the consulate in Manchester on a number of occasions. It struck me then that the consulate is huge—by far the biggest consulate of the many in Manchester. At a time when détente has finished and relationships with China are getting worse, because it is not respecting international law or the laws of this country, the size of that consulate indicates to me that it is being used to control and police members of the Chinese community in Manchester. When the Minister has had the results of the investigations—whatever they turn out to be—will he consider reducing the size of that consulate and any other consulates that the Chinese have, because they are being used not for the normal business of consulates, but as an extension of the Beijing Government in this country?

Jesse Norman 

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I do not think that I should comment on the activities of the consulate, with which I am not personally familiar, but he is right that the fundamental consular activity is extremely straightforward, in terms of the support of one’s own people in a foreign country. One would not think that an enormous infrastructure is needed to do that. His point could be applied not just to consulates, but to other potential institutions around the country and around the world, and I thank him for that.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)

Trafford has been pleased to welcome many Hong Kong BNO families and we are very proud in my constituency to be the new home of the Manchester Taiwanese Association. Those communities will need considerable reassurance from the Government that they will be safe and secure in our country. Will the Minister give an assurance that if, as reports suggest, some of the activity—the abuse and violence—was conducted on consular premises, that will not preclude full investigation and full consequences being waged against those who conducted such activity?

Jesse Norman 

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that question. We would expect the independent police and other authorities to make as thorough an investigation as they can, given the circumstances, and we would expect to be sensitive to areas where they have not been permitted to undertake the level of scrutiny that we would expect under such circumstances.

Claire Hanna (Belfast South) (SDLP)

The footage from Manchester was chilling to all of us who value human rights and non-violence, but it resonated particularly with many of my constituents in south Belfast—which is where the Northern Ireland Chinese consulate is located—who have seen up front the approach that the CCP take not just to international law, but respecting local law. In our case, that relates to developing its premises and enforcing security at them. South Belfast is also very proudly home to many people from Hong Kong who are creating a new life away from risk and repression. Will the Minister advise the House what guidance he will give to local authorities that are dealing with consulates and what his Government will do to protect the right to peaceful protest?

Jesse Norman 

I am not sure that I fully caught the final sentence of the hon. Lady’s question, but it is of course an aspect of a UK-wide support network that we should be able to provide a welcome for visitors from Hong Kong. We have 12 virtual welcome hubs across the UK and funding for organisations to deliver UK-wide and regional projects, as well as other forms of welcome and support. I can encourage colleagues from the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to come forward if further things need to be put in place to address the issues that she raises.

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)

It was only in 2015 that we were welcoming his excellency, Xi Jinping, to Manchester, where he spoke of our city’s historical links with Wuhan and investments in Manchester airport, Manchester City, the University of Manchester and the Manchester international festival, but much has changed. Having met local Hong Kong residents in Trafford, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) mentioned, and having been personally at the rough end of Chinese state tactics—having met Cardinal Zen who is under house arrest in Hong Kong—I think that this country, to use the Mancunian vernacular, needs to grow a pair and say to China, “Be a force for good in the world and stop being state-sponsored thugs.”

Mr Speaker 

There we are—I call the Minister.

Jesse Norman 

It is absolutely right to highlight the change in the position that China has taken over the past seven years. I do not think there is any doubt that it has changed, and we have had to evolve and change our response to that. The hon. Member is also right to talk about the importance of resolute action. However, this is in the context of the kind of constructive, multi-layered relationship that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) mentioned. We therefore have to try all the measures in our power to retain a respect for the rules-based order, not just in this country, but around the world with our allies, and we are doing that.

Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)

My constituents in south Manchester were really shocked by the scenes that we saw on the video. With the greatest respect to the Minister, who I like a lot, we need not an explanation, but condemnation of that behaviour. I understand that he has to couch things in diplomatic terms, but as a matter of principle, if it was the case that senior officials of a foreign consulate were involved in an attack on peaceful protesters on the streets of Manchester, surely the only way to deal with that is to expel them.

Jesse Norman 

The hon. Member may have missed the point in my statement where I said—and let me go further—that His Majesty’s Government are not only deeply concerned, but actively condemn the apparent scenes of violence that we saw at the consulate. I do not think there is any doubt about that. More widely, the position, as I have described it, is that we will await a factual determination and then take a decision based on that.

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)

The export of China’s brutal, authoritarian, democracy-crushing behaviours is what we saw in Manchester. It is completely and utterly unacceptable. It is clear not just that there is the intimidation of Hongkongers and others, but that, in so many other areas, there is covert influence and attempts to subvert our democracy and education system. It is clear that we need an in-depth, comprehensive, strategic audit of every aspect of the relationship between the UK and China, from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to defence and education—right across Whitehall.

However, may I press the Minister on the specific point about the behaviour of the consul general? Will he make it absolutely clear from the Government Dispatch Box that there is no connection between a police decision and a decision to expel? The decision to expel is a political decision. It is plain as the nose on our face that the consul general was involved in those violent scenes. He should be expelled immediately. Will the Minister confirm that there is no connection to a police investigation? It is a political decision to expel.

Jesse Norman 

I have already made that clear to the House, but let me do so again. I am not suggesting—as I said earlier—that there is a direct connection, or indeed, any connection, between that decision and a police investigation, but we need to establish the facts in a way that is official and not just, as it were, the presentation of a personal view. That process is continuing and when we have the answer to that, we will take action. That is entirely appropriate. One should, in these contexts, seek an absolutely objective basis on which to act, which takes in all the information that may be available. That is what I think the police and the prosecuting authorities, to the extent that they take an interest, will do.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)

I welcome the Minister back to the Front Bench. I know he has always had a laid-back style, but I really think he should get a little angrier about the disgraceful thing that happened in Manchester.

I have many friends from and in Hong Kong, who tell me that when they come to this country now, they feel intimidated. The Chinese influence is in our universities, in our major companies and everywhere. That has not just happened; it is part of a serious effort by China to infiltrate this country at every level. As I have said before in the House, the electricity supply to all of London and the south of England is owned by a Chinese company. Has this not gone too far?

Jesse Norman 

The hon. Gentleman will know that there are plenty of ways in which this country has economic relationships with Chinese companies. In the normal course of trade, that has been to mutual benefit, but he is right that there is a need for concern about where there may be infiltration, coercion and the rest of it. That is a very live matter for the Government, which we have talked about it in the context of Confucius institutes and covert policing operations—as they may be—and I have drawn the House’s attention, and do so again, to the foreign influence registration scheme that is being introduced under the National Security Bill. That scheme has been created specifically to tackle covert influence in the UK.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)

What discussions has the Minister had with his counterparts in the USA, Canada, Australia and the EU about co-ordinated sanctions against the individuals responsible for the ongoing crackdown in Hong Kong?

Jesse Norman 

The hon. Lady will be aware that the sanctions regime in question relates to the UN, which is a very effective international co-ordinating body. As I have touched on, we have taken lots of action short of that in responding to the coercion of Hongkongers in Hong Kong. I can also confirm that my officials remain in very close contact with similarly high-ranking staff of our allies around the world.

Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)

Reflecting on what we saw over the weekend, the Chinese consulate general justified it by saying that the activists had

“hung an insulting portrait of the Chinese president at the main entrance”.

A spokesperson for the consulate general claimed:

“This would be intolerable and unacceptable for any diplomatic and consular missions of any country.”

I have looked at an image of the portrait and, although I accept that it would be regarded as offensive, I disagree with the Chinese consulate’s spokesperson. Does the Minister agree that if there had been such a demonstration outside the British consulate in Shanghai, we might not have liked the protest—we might even have found the portrait a little insulting—but we would have tolerated it? Is that difference in values being communicated to the Chinese ambassador?

Jesse Norman 

I think it fair to say that the Chinese ambassador is fully aware of the spectrum of our concerns in relation to Chinese behaviour, whether that is in relation to victims of internationally condemned crimes in Xinjiang, whether it is in Hong Kong or whether it is in this country.