MPs across political parties today demanded the Conservative Government take more action to protect the UK from Chinese security risks as they accused ministers of not acting swiftly and robustly. 

The series of calls came in the wake of reports a Scot, working as a parliamentary aide in Westminster, was arrested in March on suspicion of spying for Beijing.

Reportedly in his twenties and educated at George Watson's College and at St Andrews University, the suspect has not been officially named by police.

In a statement released by his lawyers this morning he insisted he was "completely innocent" and said he had spent his career highlighting the "challenge and threats presented by the Chinese Communist Party".

READ MORE: China spy row: MPs told not to name arrested aide

In the Commons this afternoon both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden faced angry questions from MPs who pressed them on what the government was doing.

Mr Sunak faced calls from Labour to reveal whether Foreign Secretary James Cleverly raised reports of Chinese spying in Westminster during his August visit to the country.

Sir Keir Starmer told the Commons: “The news of the arrest of a researcher here in Parliament on suspicion of spying for China is a serious breach of security conducted by the Beijing security services.

“Given the arrest happened in March, can I ask the Prime Minister if the Foreign Secretary knew about this incident before he visited China last month, and if he did, did he raise it on that trip?”

Pointing to previous answers by Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden which avoided the issue, Sir Keir added: “My question is specific. I would ask the Prime Minister to address it directly.”

Mr Sunak said: “I am sure he will appreciate that as there is an ongoing investigation, as you have also said Mr Speaker, I am limited in what I can say specifically.

READ MORE: FM says ministers taking security concerns seriously after spy row

“But I have been emphatically clear in our engagement with China that we will not accept any interference in our democracy and parliamentary system.”

As he updated the Commons on his time at the G20 summit in India, Mr Sunak earlier told MPs: “The sanctity of this place must be protected and the right of members to speak their minds without fear or sanction must be maintained.

“We will defend our democracy and our security. So I was empathic with Premier Li (Qiang) that actions which seek to undermine British democracy are completely unacceptable and will never be tolerated.

“I also emphasised the UK’s unyielding commitment to human rights and I was clear on the importance of maintaining stability and international law as the basis for stable relations.”

Earlier the SNP's Kirsty Blackman pressed Mr Dowden on when he found out about the arrest and if the government would commit to acting more quickly in the future.

Mr Dowden in response said the House would not expect a "running commentary" on intelligence briefing, adding that the parliamentary secretary directorate supports Parliament about specific or general advice.

READ MORE: China spy row: Scot says he is 'completely innocent'

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith pointed to an earlier warning from the Commons's security committee's that the government was ill-prepared for the threat.
He also pressed when the foreign secretary was first told about the police investigation - before or after his trip to Beijing - and if it was beforehand whether he raised the issue with his Chinese counterpart.

He said the problem is what the UK defines China as: "Are they a threat or are they not?"

Mr Dowden said that the government "does not provide running commentary" on updates and intelligence received and added the foreign secretary did raise the issue of interference, and the government has been robust.

Tory MP Theresa Villiers told the Commons the UK needs "more urgency" in dealing with China, including setting up a registry for known foreign intelligence agents.

She noted such a registry is "now on its way", but asked if it would have been "helpful" had it been in use when the alleged spying took place.

Mr Dowden insisted the UK has a "very different relationship with China" to even a few years ago and added the government is "not naive" about the threat and robust in taking action.

Labour MP Chris Bryant said backbenchers had been the most clearsighted on China, including those who had been sanctioned by Beijing and asked why the UK has not designated China as a threat to national security.

"My anxiety is we still flip flop all over the place," he said.

"This year we've seen foreign secretaries... one moment wanting to suck up to China, and the next wanting to have robust words with China."

Mr Dowden said he did not accept the characterisation of the government and said action has been taken, including tech firm Huawei being banned from building the UK’s 5G networks.

He insisted the UK must engage with China, adding it is not realistic to cut ties with Beijing.

The arrest of the parliamentary aide under the Official Secrets Act led to the Prime Minister confronting Chinese premier Li Qiang at the G20 summit in India on Sunday over "unacceptable" interference in democracy.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command, which oversees espionage-related offences, are investigating.

The Scot was arrested in Edinburgh on March 13, while a second man in his 30s, was detained in Oxfordshire on the same day, Scotland Yard said. Both were held at a south London police station before being bailed until early October.

The arrests were only revealed at the weekend and the researcher at the centre of the row had links with senior Tories 

As the start of business in the Commons today Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle warned MPs not to identify the researcher amid the "sensitive police inquiry" as doing so could prejudice the probe.

Later in a statement Mr Dowden told the Commons: “These are serious allegations and it is right that they are being thoroughly investigated by the police and relevant agencies.

“We must not hamper their work or prejudice any future legal processes by what we say today, as I believe, Mr Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle), you said at the beginning of today’s proceedings.

“It remains an absolute priority for the Government to take all necessary steps to protect the United Kingdom from any foreign state activity, which seeks to undermine our national security, prosperity and democratic values.

“The Government has been clear that China represents a systemic challenge to the United Kingdom and to our values.”

After mentioning Beijing’s “continued disregard for universal human rights and international commitments in Xinjiang” and its “erasure of dissenting voices” in Hong Kong, Mr Dowden added: “We are clear-eyed about that challenge and we must be able to look the Chinese in the eye and call out unacceptable behaviour directly, just as our Prime Minister was able to do with Premier Li at the G20 in New Delhi this weekend."

Mr Dowden said “actions speak louder than words”, adding: “That’s why I took the decision to instruct departments to cease deployment of all surveillance equipment subject to China’s national intelligence law from sensitive Government sites in November last year.

“It’s one of the reasons why I banned TikTok from Government devices, it’s why the Government has investigated and called out so-called Chinese overseas police service stations.”

A spokesman for China's embassy in London said: "The claim that China is suspected of 'stealing British intelligence' is completely fabricated and nothing but malicious slander.
"We firmly oppose it and urge relevant parties in the UK to stop their anti-China political manipulation and stop putting on such self-staged political farce."