Uk Telecoms: Huawei

– in the House of Commons at 10:48 am on 25th April 2019.

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Photo of Jo Platt Jo Platt Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 10:48 am, 25th April 2019

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to make a statement on the future role of Huawei in UK telecoms infrastructure.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The security and resilience of the United Kingdom’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance. The UK has one of the world’s largest and most dynamic economies, and we welcome open trade and inward investment in our digital sectors, but at the same time the UK’s economy can only prosper when we and our international partners are assured that our critical national infrastructure remains safe and secure.

As part of our plans to provide world-class digital connectivity, including 5G, my Department has been carrying out a cross-Whitehall evidence-based review of the supply chain to ensure a diverse and secure supply base. The review aims to ensure stronger cyber-security across the entire telecommunications sector, greater resilience in telecommunications networks and diversity across the entire 5G supply chain. It has considered the full UK market position, including economic prosperity, corporate and consumer effects and the quality, resilience and security of equipment.

Despite the inevitable focus on Huawei, the review is not solely about one company or even one country. We have to strike a difficult balance between security and prosperity, and recognise the reality of globalised networks and supply chains, although I will make it clear that our security interests are pre-eminent and that has been the focus of this review. That is the way to ensure that the UK fully realises the potential of 5G through its safe and secure deployment.

As would be expected given the importance of the subject, it is a thorough review of a complex area, which has made use of the best available expert advice and evidence, including from the National Cyber Security Centre. It will report with its conclusions once ministerial decisions have been taken. The review is an important step in strengthening the UK’s security framework for telecoms and ensuring the secure roll-out of 5G and full-fibre networks.

I am sure that the House will understand that National Security Council discussions should be confidential, and will understand why that must be the case. However, I know that Members on both side of the House feel strongly on this issue and I will make a statement to the House to communicate final decisions at the appropriate time.

Photo of Jo Platt Jo Platt Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Thank you for granting this urgent question today, Mr Speaker.

What a mess we are in. The only reason we know of the decision to green-light Huawei is from an apparent ministerial leak of a meeting of the National Security Council, which has served only to raise public concern while undermining the integrity of our security agencies. Let me be clear from this side of the House: if a Minister did leak this information, they are not fit to serve in the cabinet and are certainly not fit to be Prime Minister. Indeed, if the leak was for an advantage in a Tory leadership race, that would be truly shocking. Critical issues of national security should be handled with utmost care, not used as political ammunition in a Tory party civil war. A full leak inquiry should be undertaken, and if identified, the individual should immediately resign or be removed from their position.

Turning to the substance of the question, the decision to allow Huawei’s involvement in building our 5G network raises some extremely serious questions that must be answered if we are to provide the public with concrete assurances about the integrity and safety of the network. Huawei is a company known from multiple public reports from our security services to manufacture sub-optimal equipment, often at a lower than average cost. Can the Minister clarify if the equipment described just two weeks ago by the technical director of the NCSC as “very, very shoddy” will be the same equipment green-lit for deployment in our networks?

We heard last month in a report from the Huawei oversight board, chaired by the head of the NCSC, that it still has only limited assurance that the long-term security risks presented by Huawei can be managed, and it is still identifying significant issues. For the benefit of the House, can the Minister confirm that is still the opinion of the security services when the Prime Minister has decided to allow them access to our 5G networks for the decades to come?

We need not listen only to the security services: listen to Huawei itself. In a letter to the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee in February, it said that it will take three to five years to see tangible results from its reform programme. Just weeks after those warnings, why has the company been given the go-ahead to help to build our critical national infrastructure?

Why are we in this situation today? Ultimately, the chronic lack of investment by the Government has meant that we are without thriving digital or manufacturing industries capable of producing this equipment, leaving us reliant on foreign suppliers. To that end, the Government must be called out for their negligence. The only way we will keep Britain safe and secure in the 21st century is by investing in our industries, rebuilding Britain and always placing security ahead of cost. That is exactly what a Labour Government would do.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

First, let me repeat what I said a moment or two ago. A final decision has not been made on this subject, so the hon. Lady is wrong to describe matters in the way that she has. However, I entirely agree with what she said about the leak of any discussions in the National Security Council. As she says, there is good reason for such discussions to be confidential, and I hope the House will understand that I do not intend to discuss here, or anywhere other than in the National Security Council, the matters that should be discussed there. The reason we do not is that officials, including the security and intelligence agents she has referred to in her remarks, which I will come back to, need to feel that they can give advice to Ministers that Ministers will treat seriously and keep private. If they do not feel that, they will not give us that advice, and government will be worse as a result. That is why this is serious, and that is why the Government intend to treat it seriously, as she and the whole House would expect.

I shall now respond to the other points that the hon. Lady raised. She made reference, quite properly, to the work of the oversight board. Of course the oversight board is evidence of the fact that we have arrangements in place for the management of Huawei technology that do not exist for the management of equipment supplied by others; there is reason for that. The oversight board’s concerns are, as she says, about the technical deficiencies of the equipment that Huawei is supplying. They are serious concerns; they need to be addressed. They are not, as she will recognise, concerns about the manipulation of that equipment by foreign powers, but they are none the less serious and they will be addressed. The objective of this review is to ensure that the security of the supply network, regardless of who the equipment supplier is, is improved. That is our objective, and it would be wrong to focus entirely on Huawei, or even, as I said, on Chinese equipment.

However, it is worth recognising that Chinese equipment —and, indeed, Huawei equipment—is prevalent across the world, not just in the United Kingdom. There is a good deal of Huawei equipment already in the UK networks, so we are not talking about beginning from a standing start, but it reinforces, in my view, the need to ensure that this review of the supply chain is broadly based—as it is—to ensure that we address the security of the network, regardless of where the equipment comes from.

Finally, on the issue of the security and intelligence agencies, as the hon. Lady would expect, we take full account of what the security and intelligence agencies have advised us on this subject, and she has my reassurance, as does the House, that we will continue to take seriously what they tell us, because it is a key component of the review that is being conducted—and that is being conducted, as I have indicated, with the full input of the National Cyber Security Centre.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

My right hon. and learned Friend is quite right to make no comment at all on an apparent leak from an organisation like the National Security Council. But questions must be asked as to why a document such as this, of such huge national and international security importance, was being discussed openly at the National Security Council, and indeed the content of the document itself equally is worthy of much further inquiry across Whitehall and in this place. Would my right hon. and learned Friend perhaps welcome an inquiry by the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, on which I serve, into the document, the way it was handled by the National Security Council, and the way in which the leak occurred?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I think it is entirely appropriate for the Committee on which my hon. Friend serves to make inquiries as it thinks fit. It is not a matter for me or for the Government to indicate what it should or should not do. He will recognise, of course, that these are documents that should be discussed by the National Security Council—it is a way in which the National Security Council can make sensible and properly informed decisions—but as I said a moment or so ago, and as he knows full well from his own experience, that will become less and less likely to happen, and decisions will get less and less properly based, if we cannot trust people to keep private what should be kept private.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure)

As I see it, there are two major considerations. In the UK we are lagging behind China, the USA and South Korea. The fact that we are even talking about this issue is a strong indication that there has been a lack of a realistic UK Government-backed strategy, and that has allowed us to fall behind, and we are now facing tough decisions, which could and should have been avoided. There is the threat of espionage, which is obviously denied by China. There have been persistent rumours since 2012 of an elite cyber-warfare unit using either Huawei’s software or flaws in it. Why it should go to such lengths when the NSC leaks like a sieve is beyond me, but if we do not know, how we can possibly take that risk?

I have two brief questions for the Secretary of State. Can he define the “core” and the “edge” of a 5G network and assure me that it cannot be compromised from either side? As EE is building 4G to carry emergency services, with its planned 5G piggybacking on that, will Huawei’s 5G plan disrupt that service?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

First, there is no lack of UK strategy. We have a clear intent to make maximum use of 5G technology. That is important because, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, in order for our economic development to be as successful as we all want it to be, this country will need to embrace this technology and make use of it in a variety of ways. The option of simply saying we will not engage in 5G technology is not available to us, nor should it be, and I know he does not argue for that.

If we need to provide for 5G networks, I repeat that it is important to be realistic and to recognise that Huawei is a significant player in this market. There are few others—and, by the way, the others that exist use Chinese equipment or assemble their components in China. The idea that any option available to us could completely exclude Chinese equipment or involvement of any kind is, I am afraid, not realistic.

It is also worth saying, for the reassurance of the hon. Gentleman and others, that we already take action to, for example, exclude Huawei from sensitive networks. There is no Huawei equipment in defence or intelligence networks. The division between core and access networks—which, as he says, is technically complex—is something we will need to address in the review, but I would much prefer that we discuss that review in the round when it has been properly developed, rather than attempt to do it piecemeal on the back of incomplete leaks.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

The Secretary of State talks about coming to the House with a final decision. Is this not an opportunity to have a wide-ranging debate about this issue? There are many technical, political and security considerations. If the US and Australia can block Huawei without damaging their trading relationships with China, it raises the question of why the United Kingdom could not do the same.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I recognise my hon. Friend’s considerable interest and expertise in this field. I will say two things to him. First, he is entirely right that Australia has decided to exclude Huawei completely from these systems. The United States has not yet made such a decision. It does so from federal networks, but it has not yet decided what its approach will be in the areas we are considering.

As my hon. Friend knows, I always welcome wide-ranging debate and am happy to come to the House for it. The difficulty is that, in order to have such debate, we need to have access to material that is very hard to share with the House. That is why these discussions are had at the National Security Council and why decisions must, in the end, be reached there. It is then the responsibility of Ministers—I take this responsibility seriously—to come to the House and explain those decisions to the greatest extent possible, with those caveats. I always intended to do so and still intend to do so.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

Why does the Secretary of State think that Australia has taken that decision?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I do not answer for the Australian Government; the hon. Lady would have to ask them. We are all—this applies particularly to Five Eyes partners—wrestling with these complex questions, and we may reach differing conclusions. There is good sense in having those conversations as extensively and often as we can. In fact, the Government will be doing so shortly with security and intelligence partners, and I have no doubt that this subject will be high on the agenda.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that partners—in fact, our closest intelligence partners—have been very clear in their views on this decision? Indeed, the Australian Signals Directorate made a very clear statement only a number of months ago in which it said that there was no such division between core and non-core, because the nature of 5G includes the whole gamut of the technology in one, and therefore the distinction possible in 3G and 4G is no longer feasible.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend also agree that this is not simply a technical issue—arguing about whether we would be vulnerable to espionage in a broad sense or whether Huawei would be able to hoover up the digital exhaust that is in fact the gold mine for so many businesses today—but a diplomatic one, undermining the trust that has built the 70-year relationship we know as the Five Eyes community, which keeps threats away from our shores and ensures the security of our citizens around the world? Does he not therefore see that this is fundamentally a diplomatic and political question, just as much as a technical one, and that respecting our Five Eyes partners is an essential part of the decision?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

On my hon. Friend’s last point, I entirely agree. It is important that we do not just discuss these matters with our partners, but have rather more complex and detailed technical discussions about the precise restrictions we may all seek to impose, and there is no lack of respect for what they say in this. Of course, many of our Five Eyes partners are operating under some difficulty, as Members of this House are, in that they do not know all of the decision making because some of it is not yet complete.

It is worth recognising that my hon. Friend is right that the concerns our partners have expressed are legitimate concerns. We listen very carefully to what they say, and we listen very carefully too to what our own security and intelligence agencies say. For reasons he will appreciate perhaps better than almost anyone else in this House, I do not intend to go into any detail about that, but I repeat my reassurance that we will act in full consideration of what they say, because it is an important and fundamental part of this review.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Labour, Wolverhampton South East

This leak is not only embarrassing, but, I am afraid, symptomatic of a wider breakdown of discipline and collective responsibility in the Government. This decision should be taking into account both our national security needs and our technological requirements for the future. Those should be the only two things under consideration by Ministers, not their own political share price or anything else. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that, in our altered post-Brexit geopolitical position, there is no question of future trade requirements or the urgency of a trade deal with China influencing national security judgments?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the importance of this decision and the considerations that legitimately play a part. This is a decision that will be taken by the Government as a whole, but the recommendations of this review have been produced by my Department in collaboration with the intelligence agencies, particularly the National Cyber Security Centre, as I have said. We have done that with the country’s security considerations pre-eminent among the issues that are discussed and will be put forward at that review. That will remain the case for as long as I lead this Department and have anything to say about it.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans

We are only here today because there has been a leak. That is incredibly regrettable for the whole of the House—I have heard that opinion from both sides of the House—and national security could not be a more important topic for all of us to be discussing. I am a little concerned that the leak may be trivialised by saying that it is as a result of someone’s leadership campaign. I am more concerned that it may be as a result of whistleblowing, because the process is so concerning to someone that they have felt the need to break the bond of trust that has existed for so long.

I accept that the review is going on at the moment in great secrecy, but since this has now been brought out into the open, can my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that absolutely every consideration will be given to all the concerns that have been raised by hon. Members here today about both our relationship with countries such as Australia and our cyber-security and national security? Importantly, will he make sure that some concept of future deals with China is not colouring what we must now have absolutely at the forefront of our mind—the safety of the British public?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. That will indeed be the focus of this review, as she has just heard me say. I do not think that the motivation for this leak matters in the slightest. This was unacceptable, and it is corrosive of the ability to deliver good government, which is something for which we must all take responsibility. In discussions of this kind, people are entitled to express whatever views they wish—and they do—but once the discussion has been held, collective responsibility requires that people do not repeat their views publicly, and they certainly should not discuss matters that have a security implication of this kind. I think that is clear, and the majority of Members of the House will agree. We will return to the substance of this issue when I have the opportunity to speak rather more freely than I can at the moment, and I will of course give the House as much detail as I can.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

Protecting this country’s national security must be non-negotiable, but there have also been reports, including in The Daily Telegraph, that Chinese technology companies have been complicit in the internal repression of ethnic Muslims in western China. That involves the internment of hundreds of thousands of people in “re-education” camps, and the creation of a surveillance state, and it is possible that that includes Huawei. Is the Secretary of State aware of any allegations that specifically involve Huawei, and if so, should we be doing business with a company that engages in that sort of activity?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

As the right hon. Gentleman says, our concerns about Huawei are at least in part due to the potential interlocking nature of what it does and what the Chinese state does. That lies at the heart of our concerns, hence the oversight mechanisms with which he is familiar. We will, of course, take full account not just of what he has said, but of all our other information when making our judgment. He will understand that the involvement of the intelligence and security agencies in that process is fundamental and integral, and it means that we can get a good sense of the sort of information he describes.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

I am not encouraging my right hon. and learned Friend to comment on the substance of leak, but while that leak might become the subject of a criminal investigation, does he agree it is important that people both in and outside this House choose their words carefully when talking about what happened yesterday?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I agree with my hon. Friend, as she would expect, and she speaks with experience on this matter. We cannot exclude the possibility of a criminal investigation, and everybody will want to take that suggestion seriously. We are all entitled to say what many of us have already said about the undesirability of this kind of leak, and it is perfectly proper for the House to express its concern in such a way.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

The Secretary of State is being very open and reasonable, but does he agree that fundamentally this is all about trust? When I was a very young MP, one of my first parliamentary jobs was to go to Hong Kong as part of a parliamentary delegation, to assess the agreement that this country reached with China on the future of Hong Kong. This very week have we seen how China has shredded that agreement by taking those democracy protesters and giving them long prison sentences. The Secretary of State says that we want a broad-ranging inquiry, but Syngenta in my constituency has been taken over by ChemChina. That is not on the stock exchange; that is the Chinese Government buying into our economy. We must look at that seriously as it is a question of trust.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and as I have said, the approach that we take to Huawei is different in nature to the approach we already take to other suppliers of similar equipment. He will recognise that the problem is not specific to the United Kingdom, and neither is it easy to resolve by simply saying, “We’ll have nothing to do with the Chinese”. As I have set out, a considerable amount of Chinese equipment is already in the system both here and elsewhere, and a considerable amount of Chinese components are in the supplies that we get from anywhere. This is not straightforward, hence the need for the type of review that we have engaged in, to discuss the issue sensibly and reach considered conclusions. The hon. Gentleman knows me well enough to know that that is my preferred approach, and that is what I intend to do.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the UK relies on many international tech companies for its digital and telecoms infrastructure? All have different levels of risk, but all have contributed to enabling the UK to have the largest digital economy as a percentage of GDP in the G20. Can he assure me that the British Government would not take undue and unnecessary risk with citizens’ data or national security, whether our partners be Chinese or the US, international or domestic?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes a good point. As I said, the purpose of the review process is not simply to answer questions about Huawei or even to answer questions about China; it is to ensure that our telecoms supply chain is secure for the future regardless of where the equipment comes from. That is our objective and that is the sensible approach.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Labour, Enfield, Southgate

Since it was leaked that the Prime Minister has given the green light to Huawei’s involvement with 5G, what representations has the Secretary of State had from Huawei’s competitors?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Again, I think the way in which the hon. Gentleman has phrased what has happened is incorrect. I have made clear what the position is. Of course, we will listen to those in the sector, as we listen to others. In the end, however, the judgment that the UK Government have to make is how we ensure that our telecoms system is secure, safe and provides the kind of 5G network that will be the foundation of our economic success in the future. That is the objective here and that is what we will pursue.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

Will the Secretary of State set out what steps the Government are taking to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of the development of new technologies like 5G? In particular, what are the Government doing to ensure that rural areas, like those in my own constituency in the Scottish borders, are not left behind as the 5G network is rolled out?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend is right. It is important that we recognise the need to ensure this technology serves our whole population and that its potential is properly developed. As he will know, the Government, in conjunction with others, are attempting to develop this technology in test beds, particularly, as he will know, in rural applications, which I hope will be of benefit to him and his constituents. I believe that that can transform how our citizens connect to the essential services we now all use.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy)

I should declare an interest, having spent 20 years building out mobile and fixed networks around the world, working with a variety of vendors including Huawei and latterly for the regulator Ofcom.

Mobile networks are an increasingly critical part of our national infrastructure, but the regulatory framework has not kept pace since 2010. For example, it has not matched the resilience and security requirements of fixed networks. 5G makes mobile networks part of the everyday infrastructure of our lives, but it will be built out using existing components and network parts where, in many cases, Huawei is already present—it is based on 4G, for example. Does the Secretary of State agree that we need a transparent principles-based and standards-based resilience and security regulatory framework? Will he comment on why Ofcom has not provided that under the duties set out in section 105 of the Communications Act 2003? Will he ensure that in the future Ofcom has the resources and the powers to ensure it does?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Lady is right. The importance of the review is that it deals with the need to ensure security is in place for the mobile network, as it is elsewhere. That becomes increasingly important as we move towards extensive applications of 5G. That is the logic for the review. That is why it is important and that is why it is happening now. Ofcom will have its part to play in that process. She will understand why I do not talk now about the conclusions of the review, but I will discuss them when they are available. I have no doubt that she will wish to participate in that conversation.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

Following on from the question from Norman Lamb, does the Secretary of State recognise that there are legitimate human rights concerns about reports of the use of technology by Chinese authorities to monitor its own citizens—for example, the recent reports of the extensive use of facial recognition technology by Chinese law enforcement agencies to characterise people by social groups, race or ethnicity and to monitor the movements of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of minority Uighur Muslims simply going about their daily business?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Those are legitimate concerns, and they are the reason why we have to consider companies that are closely connected with, or potentially influenced by, the Chinese state in a different category. As I have said, however, there is a practical problem, which is that if our objective were to exclude all Chinese equipment from these systems, we would find that exceptionally difficult to do. There is a balance to be struck. The purpose of this exercise is to ensure that we do not expose our systems and our citizens to risks that we can sensibly and prudently avoid. That is what the review is designed to do, and I believe that it will succeed.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

When the Foreign Affairs Committee was in Beijing recently, every single person whom we spoke to made it absolutely clear that the Chinese Communist party would stop at nothing to gain whatever economic or political advantage it could possibly achieve, whether through espionage, massive data gathering or the abuse of intellectual property rights. The people whom we met will be enormously sceptical about direct engagement with Huawei, a company that operates directly under Chinese law and is likely at any one moment suddenly to be seized by the Chinese state to perform its duties under that law rather than the law of this country.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right about those concerns, which are legitimately held. Let me repeat, however—I know that he understands this—that we are not at a standing start. There is already considerable engagement with Huawei, not just in this country but around the world, and we seek to manage that process in the ways that he knows about. The long-term aspiration of broadening the market and diversifying suppliers is absolutely the right one, and I hope very much that the review will address those issues, too, but that in itself will not be a quick fix. We will seek to do it, but it will take some time to broaden the market beyond what are now essentially three suppliers in this space and three only.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

If the National Security Council is not secure, what is the point of it?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The point of the National Security Council is to enable us to discuss matters of national security, and we will continue to need to do that. I suspect that my hon. Friend will have detected in what I have said my view of the importance of those conversations remaining confidential.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington

Today’s Financial Times quotes Rob Joyce, a senior cyber-security adviser to the US National Security Agency, as saying:

“We are not going to give them the loaded gun.”

He said of the oversight board:

“For eight years they have had the cyber security centre there and the last several years there have been some really horrific reports about the quality of that activity and what’s being produced.”

How seriously should we take those comments?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Of course we take comments of that kind seriously, but it is important when people reach a judgment on these matters that they are in possession of all the facts, all the evidence and all the advice that we receive from many sources, including the security and intelligence agencies. It is difficult for anyone who does not sit around the National Security Council table to have access to all those different materials, but, as I have said, what is important is that we produce a secure system that will deliver safely a 5G from which all our constituents will benefit—including, importantly, those in Warwickshire. That is what we seek to do, and that is what the review is for.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I, too, must declare an interest: I spent 31 years in the telecoms and high-tech industry before coming to this place.

My right hon. Friend has indicated that Huawei’s technology, while niche, is not unique and that there are alternatives. The lesson of 3G and 4G procurement is that technological solutions came along quite quickly during the process. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, whatever decision is made, this process will be subject to open competition and companies will be able to compete freely for our business?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose experience is valuable in this discussion. He is right that we must also consider the competition aspects, not just from an economic point of view, but from a security point of view. It is obviously better to have a number of different suppliers, not just because it helps with the economics, but because it makes the network more secure. The difficulty, as he will recognise, is that essentially there are only three suppliers in this space: Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson. There are difficulties, on a number of levels, with the assumption that were we to exclude Huawei and rely entirely on the other two suppliers, we would have a safe network as a result. That is not the right assumption to make. That is why the review process is more complex than it might initially appear to be.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

As well as the current controversy over safety and security, there is another aspect to this: the safety of human health. Will the Secretary of State assure me that whatever company he chooses as the main contractor will have to take full account of the impact on human health and ensure that any infrastructure minimises any possible danger to human health?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Of course that is important, and the hon. Gentleman will know that colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care are working on this. Whatever use we make of this technology and whoever supplies it, it is important that human health considerations are taken into account.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

Over the past few years, many serious questions have been raised over Huawei, so it seems reckless even to consider it for the 5G network. The Secretary of State said earlier that Huawei is not operating in sensitive or defence areas, but as we become ever more reliant on the internet of things the ability to shut down a network poses a serious threat to our national security. If he is so confident about Huawei’s integrity, why is it not operating in sensitive areas?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

We of course recognise that there is a material distinction between Huawei and other suppliers, and that is its potential interconnection with the Chinese state. It is therefore sensible for the UK to ensure that when we are dealing with particularly sensitive networks, Huawei is not involved. That process is well understood by both sides. Of course, the Chinese would apply a very similar principle to non-Chinese companies in China. But that is not what we are talking about in relation to the entire telecommunications network. The hon. Lady is entirely right that we must have the greatest possible security on our 5G systems, because as we do more and more with those systems, the consequences of someone being able to influence them at a fundamental level become more and more severe. That is exactly why the review is needed.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

In the 1980s, Britain was a world leader in the development of fibre-optic broadband, but we have since lost that capability as a result of the privatisation and fragmentation of Britain Telecom and GEC-Marconi. We are now reliant on Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei, as the Minister has said. Is it not clear that, with the development of the internet of things, which has huge industrial potential, the opportunity now is for Britain to build a national champion in this space, perhaps working with Five Eyes partners and other close allies, that could deliver an internationally competitive capability in its own right?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I know that it is tempting for Opposition Members to blame everything on privatisation, but I do not think that is fair in this context. The point about a potential alternative contender, whether a national champion or something developed in concert with others, is something we should of course consider. However, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, that will not happen overnight, even if we and others are determined to achieve it. The more pressing problem for us to address is this: if we need to get our 5G systems up and running —I suggest that we do, in order not to fall behind in all these important economic areas—we need a system in place that enables us to develop those networks with the existing technology coming from existing suppliers. I repeat that we have a very limited choice available to us. The purpose of the review is to find a way to navigate that marketplace without sacrificing our security.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

Our security services say that this is the first ever leak from the National Security Council. May I press the Secretary of State to tell us whether there will be a criminal investigation?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

As the hon. Gentleman will recognise, that is not a matter for me. What I have said this morning —[Interruption.] What I said when I spoke 10 minutes ago was that I cannot rule that out, and nor can anyone else. It is a matter for the investigating and then prosecuting authorities to consider. It is not a matter for me. However, the leak can be condemned by us all, whether or not it is proceeded against in a criminal way.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Huawei has been banned from the core of 5G, but it is to be allowed to operate at the edge. The edge includes masts and antennas, which are also very sensitive. Canada and New Zealand have expressed concern, and Australia and the United States of America have said there is no relevant distinction between the core and the edge of 5G networks. What discussions has the Minister had with those four countries, and has their determination had any influence on our decision?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman will know from our discussions this morning that these are important conversations with our Five Eyes partners, and they are continuing, as he would expect. I repeat the point that, as yet, the final decisions on this matter have not been taken, so we should not characterise it in that sense. However, it is vital that when we come to make the decisions, we consider all relevant matters. I repeat my reassurance to him that the priority in all those considerations will be security. That is why this review was commenced in the first place. That is its purpose, and that is what we seek to achieve with it.