Telecoms Supply Chain Review

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:11 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 6:11 pm, 22nd July 2019

The hon. Gentleman was doing so well until the end; I suppose I should be grateful he did not quote,

“Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today”.

First, on the hon. Gentleman’s last remarks, let me say that the feeling is entirely mutual: I have enjoyed working with him and his colleagues. Our constituents expect not just the cut and thrust of debate across this Dispatch Box, which we have also enjoyed, but that we work together where it is appropriate to do so, and I am grateful to him and his colleagues for the spirit in which they have done exactly that.

Let me say a number of things about the hon. Gentleman’s comments on the statement. First, he is right to say that this announcement is about further delay in relation to decisions on Huawei, and I have explained why that delay is necessary. He is entirely right to say that the industry requires clarity and we should seek to give it that. At the moment, we are not capable of offering that clarity, and any decision that we were to take now might end up being different in the future when that greater clarity arrives. It is not a failing of the UK Government that is at work here, but an attempt to understand the actions of the US Administration and the implications of them.

The hon. Gentleman has said that he is concerned to ensure that this should be a decision about the interests of the UK and not the priorities of the US Administration, and I understand that. I can give him the assurance that decisions we take will be decisions in the best interests of the United Kingdom, but he knows that this is a hugely interconnected sector and it simply is not possible to make sensible judgments about telecommunications without recognising those interconnections. What the US Administration do has a significant impact on Huawei, and we have a situation in which Huawei equipment has American components and intellectual property within it. If that equipment is to find its way into the UK telecoms network, of course the actions and decisions of the US Administration are important—hence the necessary delay here.

The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that this is important technology and it can have a huge impact on our economy; he heard what I said about that a little earlier in the statement. He is wrong to say that the fibre roll-out has reached 4% of the country. It has now reached 8%—it was 4% when I arrived in this job and it has now doubled. He is of course also right to say that that leaves us with a considerable distance still to travel. It is important that we do that in a number of ways, with the most important perhaps being to commit fully to a full fibre roll-out: that was a strategic decision that the Government made—again, in the past 12 months.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman makes reference to the discrepancy that there may be in the approach that different EU countries may take. Of course, it would also be right to highlight the approach that other Five Eyes colleague countries may take. A huge variety of approaches is being taken; there is no uniform approach in the EU, with each country taking a slightly different one. The same is true of the Five Eyes nations. We of course want to engage with all our international colleagues, particularly those with whom we discuss these matters on a regular basis, and make sure that we have their input. However, I go back to my earlier comment: in the end, this will be a judgment that we take in the best interests of the United Kingdom.