Sunak: China represents ‘systemic challenge for the world order’
The Government has been issued a warning from the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standards Committee, who warned that spies from countries such as China have infiltrated all-party parliamentary groups. Chris Bryant noted a high-profile case in which a woman who helped set up a Chinese in Britain group was revealed by MI5 to be a spy. He said there had been multiple cases which were a “matter for the security services”.
The Labour MP told BBC Radio 4 that foreign governments are “very interested” in using the informal interest groups, saying the numbers of them have spiralled.
Mr Bryant said: “The director of security at the House of Commons, Alison Giles, gave us pretty conclusive evidence that some foreign governments are very interested in using APPGs as a means of getting across their point of view, and sometimes that’s perfectly legitimate and fine.
“It’s fine for MPs to meet with ambassadors, even from difficult countries – but sometimes, there’s that incident… in relation to China, it’s not the only case where there are security concerns.”
Asked which other cases there had been, he said: “I can’t refer to them, I’m afraid, as that’s a matter for the security services and for Alison Giles, but both the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Speakers of the House of Lords have expressed their concerns.”
The committee has set out a proposed package of reforms that includes barring foreign governments from running APPGs.
It said the interest groups should be barred from accepting money from foreign governments
All APPGs should be banned from accepting foreign governments’ money, and have to publish their annual income and spending, the standards committee said.
There are more than 740 APPGS, which amounts to more than one for every sitting MP.
Some 36 of those APPGs are concerned with specific countries and have an external secretariat, funder or “public enquiry point”, according to Transparency International.
Transparency International found that 23 of these were a thinktank, or a civil society or campaign group and six were private businesses.
Meanwhile, five were unknown and two were sponsored by a foreign government.
To limit the number of groups in existence, the standards committee is pushing for every group to have a maximum of four “officers” who are jointly liable for following the rules.
The committee also wants MPs to be allowed to be an officer for a maximum of six groups.
Speaking about the recommendations, Mr Bryant told the Guardian that the groups are “out of control”.
He said: “The easiest way in the world to peddle influence around parliament – whether appropriate or not – is through APPGs.
“There’s far too many of them. It’s out of control and we need to rein it in.”
The MP for Rhondda added: “The whole of our system of lobbying has a soft underbelly – and it’s called APPGs.
“Anyone can set them up, they’re running in five minutes and you hardly have to have anyone interested or turn up – yet then you can tout your influence around parliament very easily.”
Ms Giles, parliament’s head of security, last year warned that APPGs were “relatively unregulated and, crucially, dependant on outside interests for funding”.
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She said: “Many APPGs will be actively looking for the kind of support that foreign entities and governments would be only too pleased to provide.”
Ms Giles added that it was “easy … to obfuscate funding sources”. Her comments suggest that moves to directly block foreign government’s funding APPGs may not block money flowing into them from hostile states completely.
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