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I thank my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat for this question. I know he has a deep interest in this issue, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has corresponded with him about it over the past few months. She will address this issue herself in the other place later today.
New telecoms technologies and next-generation networks like 5G and full fibre can change our lives for the better. They can give us the freedom to live and work more freely, help rural communities to develop thriving digital economies, and help socially isolated people to maintain relationships, so the security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance. The UK has one of the world’s most dynamic digital economies, and we welcome open trade and inward investment. However, our economy can prosper and unleash Britain’s potential only when we and our international partners are assured that our critical national infrastructure remains safe and secure.
As part of our mission to provide world-class digital connectivity, including 5G, my Department carried out a cross-Whitehall evidence-based review of the telecoms supply chain to ensure a diverse and secure supply base. That review’s findings were published in July 2019 and set out the Government’s priorities for the future of our telecommunications. Those priorities are strong cyber-security across the entire telecommunications sector, greater resilience in telecommunications networks and diversity across the entire 5G supply chain. It considered the UK’s entire market position, including economic prosperity, the industry and consumer effects, and the quality, resilience and security of equipment.
However, in July, the review did not take a decision on the controls to be placed on high-risk vendors in the UK’s telecoms network. Despite the inevitable focus on Huawei, that review was not about one company or even one country. We would never take a decision that threatens our national security or the security of our allies. The Government’s telecoms supply chain review is a thorough review into a complex area that made use of the best available expert advice and evidence, and its conclusions on high-risk vendors will be reported once ministerial decisions have been taken.
The National Security Council will meet tomorrow to discuss these issues. This work is an important step in strengthening the UK’s security frameworks for telecoms and ensuring the roll-out of 5G and full-fibre networks. I know that Members on both sides of the House feel strongly about this issue, and the Government will make a statement to the House to communicate final decisions on high-risk vendors at the appropriate time. We will always put national security at the top of our agenda.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The interest shown in the House demonstrates the interest that many of us have in this question. As the Minister made clear, a decision will be made tomorrow which we will not have any further say on. That decision may or may not nest a dragon in our critical national infrastructure, and it will not be reversible by a future Government with any ease; we will live with this decision for the next 10, 15 or 20 years. That is why this question is so urgent and why I am so glad that you allowed time for it to be asked, Mr Speaker.
The question for us has to be: is the risk worth it? We know the stories about Huawei’s co-operation with the state apparatus of China in countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia. We know stories about its connections to the intelligence services and the police state currently running in Xinjiang. We know that there are strong accusations effectively of tech-dumping, with market subsidies allowing Huawei to compete against other companies on an unfair basis. That might be an example of charity by the Chinese Communist party, but if even the Communist party in Vietnam decides to reject Huawei and set up its own network, perhaps we should beware of strangers and the gifts they bear.
This is a really important decision not only for the UK but for our allies. Today, Germany is making a similar decision. New Zealand and Australia have already made decisions. The Czech Government have already rejected Huawei. Over the coming months, more Governments will be looking at our stance on China when considering the threats that some of their institutions face.
Of course, we must work with China and find ways of co-operating in areas such as environmentalism, energy policy and technology, but when we see China’s aggressive moves towards the UN bodies that control the regulation of information and the way in which subsidies are used to take control of important networks, we should be concerned. I hope that the Minister will understand the concern that the whole House feels about Huawei and the idea of nesting that dragon and allowing a fox into the hen house when we should be guarding the wire. I hope that he will see his responsibility clearly.
I agree with some of what my hon. Friend says. He is right that this is a serious and important decision, and it will not be taken lightly by any means. I know that he does not think that I take this matter lightly, and neither does the Secretary of State. He is also right that Parliament should have its say. We are talking about this issue today, but the Intelligence and Security Committee has been writing reports on this since 2013 and made statements as recently as July last year. There have been UQs, and we have had debates in this Chamber and in Westminster Hall. It is right that Parliament expresses its view.
My hon. Friend is right to say that our agencies look carefully at how best we manage this situation and its effects on the global landscape. Britain is in a unique position, so comparisons with other countries can only go so far, but he is right to make those comparisons. I can only reinforce that this decision will be taken with the utmost seriousness.
I congratulate Tom Tugendhat on securing this important urgent question, though I am deeply dismayed that the Prime Minister is not making a statement on this matter, which is of critical national importance. It is difficult not to agree with my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer that the Prime Minister is “doing a runner”. Can the Minister confirm that the Prime Minister will take full responsibility for any decision reached at tomorrow’s National Security Council meeting, and not seek to hide behind his Ministers or the civil service?
Any decision to allow Huawei’s involvement in building our 5G network will require concrete assurances about the integrity and safety of the network. The most recent report from the company oversight committee concluded that it had made “No material progress” on these issues. That was last March. Since then, what assurances have the Government received that the situation has changed? If, as has been reported, the Government’s solution is to limit the company’s involvement to non-core parts of the network, how will that be enforced?
According to Mobile UK, any restriction on Huawei’s involvement could result in an 18 to 24-month delay to the 5G roll-out, at a cost to our economy of up to £6.8 billion. How then will tomorrow’s decision affect the Government’s ambition for the majority of the UK to have 5G mobile coverage by 2027? Part of the reason why the delay would be so long is Huawei is already embedded in our 4G network, so where are our alternative homegrown suppliers? What are the Government doing to build the sector, and does the Minister accept that chronic lack of investment and leadership from the Government has brought us to this parlous situation? Finally, what is he doing to ensure that we are never again dependent on foreign powers to secure our critical national infrastructure and security?
There were a number of sometimes contradictory strands in that statement, but I will attempt to address them all. The hon. Member asked whether the Prime Minister will take responsibility for the decision that is made. Of course he will. The Prime Minister not only takes responsibility for his Government; he takes responsibility for an election campaign in which Labour’s position on national security was profoundly rejected by the British people.
The hon. Member asked how we will enforce any decision. We will enforce it in the same way that we have enforced previous decisions. She also asked what this Government are doing to make sure that we have further investment in our own cyber-security. She will know, as the shadow Secretary of State, just how much this country is investing in cyber-skills, cyber-security and digital skills, and in a whole host of the aspects that have made sure that this is the fifth largest digital economy. I am completely reassured that our position on that will continue to drive such progress.
On the substantive matter, however, it is of course right that we make sure that we address this situation with all the seriousness that it deserves, that we take all the advice from our allies and from our agencies that has been offered, and that we come to a conclusion tomorrow. National security will always be at the top of that agenda.
The Minister hinted at a possible way out of this impasse for the Government when he referred to the Intelligence and Security Committee. I am the only Conservative Member of the House to have taken part in the previous full-scale investigation of Huawei, and we reported in 2013. It is true that there was a statement in July 2019. I have just looked it up, and it was three pages long. Surely the Intelligence and Security Committee is the body that is tailor-made to represent the concerns of this Parliament through an in-depth study and report—both publicly and, in the classified version, privately, as we did before, to Parliament and the Prime Minister, respectively—so that we can come up with a robust, rigorous and resilient solution.
I pay tribute to the 2013 Malcolm Rifkind report; it was a thorough piece of work for that period. And of course my right hon. Friend is right that the ISC is one of many forums that could look at this issue. [Interruption.] For instance, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has also looked at our relationship with China. He is right, too, to say that the ISC as an independent body could choose to look at this, and the Government would of course welcome and co-operate fully with any such inquiry.
I thank Tom Tugendhat for raising this crucial issue. He was right, of course, to say that sovereignty extends beyond land and also includes information. Members from all sides of the House have expressed very grave concerns about establishing such a fundamental part of our digital infrastructure with a Chinese-owned technology giant.
With reports that the Prime Minister will be seeking to include only core parts of the network in any ban, will there be any clear guidance as to what is and is not included in that definition, and in the absence of the Secretary of State—who does not seem to be in the Gallery; I thought she might give us another hand signal to tell us what she feels—what assurances have the UK Government sought to answer concerns on the impact that this could have on the security and autonomy of data in the UK and what measures are in place to ensure that these are completely credible? Is it really the case that this is the only firm capable of providing this technology, and does this heavy reliance on one company not give the Government cause for concern in the event of any future escalation of geopolitical tension or disagreements between the United Kingdom and China?
I won’t, but am grateful for the invitation.
John Nicolson is also right to say that maintaining the security of this country’s data is one of the many important ways in which we preserve our national security. On his final and most important question, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that this is by no means the only company that Britain looks to for this sort of infrastructure. That is one of the reasons why we talk about high-risk vendors, rather than one individual company. Success in many ways over coming years looks like a more diverse, more competitive market supplying these things. We already use other companies in UK networks; we should continue to do so to a greater extent.
The strategic goal of our policy towards China must be interdependence, not isolation, in order to reduce the risk of future conflict, so will the Minister confirm that a proper security risk assessment has been made and will continue to be made about Huawei’s role in our adoption of 5G? Will he also confirm that, unless the Americans can make a legitimate security case, we should quietly ignore their current public position that thinly disguises a protectionist trade position built on supposition, and proceed on the evidence? We should also gently let our American friends know that we are not leaving one dependent economic relationship on Friday to immediately enter another?
My hon. Friend invites me to stray perhaps further than my DCMS brief and into global geopolitics. However, he is right to say that we should make this decision with an eye on what our allies have advised us as well as what our agencies suggest, and of course on the global situation.
As a member of the ISC up to the last general election, I can say that the Committee has looked at this. Unfortunately, the ISC is not in being at the moment; it is up to the Prime Minister to call and set up the new Committee? My personal point of view, from the briefings and information that I have seen, is that any risks can be mitigated by our current services. The bigger issue however, which I think does need addressing, is around sovereign capability. In the new defence and security review, what emphasis will be put on sovereign capability, not just in this area, but in a host of other areas? To date, this Government have not been good at investing in sovereign capability. That should be considered rather than simply looking at price as a factor in making decisions.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the evidence to which the ISC has pointed, and of which I hope the House will take note. When it comes to sovereign powers, when we assess our national security, there are of course some industries that we should consider of strategic importance. We do that in some areas; I suspect that in future we will consider whether we should do it in others.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat on his urgent question. Given that we are, in a sense, at war—there is a cyber-war going on in which China is arguably the biggest participant; maybe Russia as well—the idea that we should think of giving a company that is heavily subsidised by China, a country that has set out to steal data and technology non-stop, the right to be in what is essentially a very delicate area of our technology seems utterly bizarre. I was led to believe that the Government would not make that decision. I hope that they will now reject Huawei immediately.
I cannot pre-empt the decision, as my right hon. Friend knows, but it is important to say that our agencies have managed the relationship that he talks about over a number of years and will continue to do so. We should of course pay tribute to them, and I look forward to seeing a decision made that fully engages with all their advice.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this Government will always make decisions in the national interest.
Why is it argued that we can limit Huawei to the periphery of the network, when Australia and the United States do not agree and when the head of Australia’s cyber-agency says that
“the distinction between core and edge collapses in 5G,” and that
“a…threat anywhere in the network” is a threat everywhere? Why is it said that the risks are manageable, when our allies say not? Why have previous Ministers claimed that Huawei is a private firm, when in no way is that true? Why are we told that there are no alternatives, when there are? Why are we told that the quality of Huawei’s work is high, when its Cell in Banbury says that its work is sloppy? Why do we need high-risk vendors in our network at all? Whoever controls 5G will significantly affect our rule of law, our data privacy, our security and our freedom to support our allies. We have had so little parliamentary debate on this issue.
There are a number of questions there. My hon. Friend is right to allude to the fact that there are alternatives to Huawei, and we would of course seek to use them as much as possible. He is right to say that we have to consider the unique nature of a 5G network, and that is precisely what our agencies will do when they offer advice to Government. He is also right to say that we have to look at this decision in the round, and that is what we will do.
In addition to legitimate security concerns, the human rights implications of granting access must not be ignored. Huawei has been implicated in mass oppression in China, selling infrastructure that has allowed it to build a surveillance state and disseminate disinformation and racially charged propaganda. To ensure that we continue to defend human rights here and abroad, what steps will the Government take to ensure that all foreign firms wanting to bid for public contracts in the UK or run critical infrastructure are subject to the most stringent human rights impact assessments and also that those assessments consider information provided by our key allies, including the Five Eyes alliance?
Although the hon. Lady raises issues that are not directly related to national security, she is absolutely right to do so. This country has ensured that it has a robust relationship with all our partners and allies, and with every other country around the world, so that we can have precisely the sorts of conversations that she asks for, because we know just how important they are.
It would be wrong to suggest, would it not, that this decision is simple. It is far from straightforward, but can I ask my hon. Friend to give us two pieces of reassurance about how it will be made? First, will he reassure us that it will be made in accordance with, and not in contradiction to, the advice given by our intelligence agencies? Secondly, will he reassure us that the Government will have considered, and will be able to share with the House, their assessment of the long-term commercial viability of Huawei equipment, given the entity listing decisions of the US Administration?
My right hon. and learned Friend very much invites me to pre-empt the decision. I can, of course, say with absolute certainty that any decision will be made after intense engagement with the advice of the agencies. That will, of course, by its nature, have to consider the long-term consequences of the decision, so the short answer to his question is: yes, and yes.
I am puzzled by the accusations of US protectionism, because European companies, such as Ericsson and Nokia, have a long record of technical expertise. Is not the real problem the Treasury’s short-term doctrine of cheapest is best, even if the company is heavily subsidised and supported by its Government? Why are we putting our security and our economic relationship with long-term allies at risk just to save a few bob?
The right hon. Gentleman is right on one level—there is a cost component to any of these decisions—but these decisions are made primarily by commercial organisations, when it comes to the roll-out of their networks. The Government have a crucial role to play in making sure that they have the best possible advice. As I said, we as a Government will always put national security as the top consideration.
Is not the long-term strategic question: why have we come to a point where we have no recourse to sufficiently viable and cheap technology of our own, or from any of our allies? Should we not have been developing that for the last 20 years? [Interruption.] A lot happened under the last Labour Government, if I may say so—Huawei got into BT under the last Labour Government. What are the Government going to do now to reverse the trend of technological dependency on China, which is not an ally of ours in upholding western values and western democratic institutions?
It is reasonable to ask how we got here, and one of the answers is decisions made under the Labour Government. However, it is right to say that we have to make sure that the decision that is made tomorrow produces, over the coming years, a more diverse landscape that means that more options are available to this and future Governments. In that context, it is right that we consider our investment in research and development and in building the UK’s home-grown capabilities.
It is true that there are clearly documented risks in dealing with certain Chinese companies, including intellectual property theft, theft of industrial secrets, and pressure on Chinese citizens in third countries. Huawei has been involved in our 2G, 3G and 4G networks and it clearly has the capacity to be involved in the 5G network, particularly if any potential risks are mitigated. Will the Minister tell the House if he is aware of any potential risk of Huawei being involved in the non-core part of the 5G network that cannot be mitigated?
In a sense, I think the hon. Gentleman is asking me about an unknown unknown, so I hesitate to get into the detail. However, the principle point he is making about the extent to which we can be confident about our future abilities to mitigate potential problems is at the core of the decision that will have to be made tomorrow.
We are in a period of constant conflict. The character of war is changing, with terrain being replaced by the digital as the prize. This question is not about today; it is about long-term security and where China is going. In our lifetimes, it will become more militarily, technologically and economically powerful than any other country in the world. It is already causing the splintering of the internet. Does not the issue of Huawei raise bigger questions about where China is going and about the need for greater transparency on the international stage?
My right hon. Friend is very experienced in these matters and gets right to the heart of the issue. The issue of this country’s relationship with other countries of varying friendliness around the world will only become more pressing. We have to make the right decision now.
I declare my interest as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The issue of internet-connected devices in our critical national infrastructure is related not just to 5G and Huawei, but to water, electricity and supermarket food distribution systems—every part of our way of life. Yet we are caught in the middle of a China, European Union and United States policy approach to developing these technologies. The Minister has been asked a few times today—he has not quite answered the question—what representations he has made to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to include in the Government’s industrial strategy sovereign capability in the manufacturing of technologies. We want absolute reassurance that technologies are safe in our critical infrastructure.
I hoped that I had hinted at an answer earlier. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that Britain has to have an eye on the importance to our strategic interests of certain areas of our economy and of certain small companies growing in this country. We will continue to do that. It is a statement of the obvious that the areas where we will have to take an interest will grow over time.
I invite the Minister, in making this technical assessment, to look at the work of the Worcestershire local enterprise partnership, which has been running a 5G testbed in Malvern for the past two years. In making the security and diplomatic assessment, I ask the Minister to urge the Foreign Secretary to make sure that we have an ambassador in Washington as soon as possible.
My hon. Friend is right that this country is already doing important work in our 5G testbeds and trials programme; Malvern is one of the excellent examples of that. Britain, of course, makes sure that it has the best possible diplomatic network around at all times.
Huawei bought its way into the 2G, 3G and 4G networks by bidding to sell at only a quarter of the price of its competitors. Clearly, that was China trying to take control of the market. Where is the Minister’s scepticism? Not only will our security be at risk from a hostile power if Huawei is allowed into the network, some of which it could switch off even if it was not spying; it wants to control the commercial market as well. Where is his scepticism?
Sometimes when things look too good to be true, be they economic or security-related, we should realise that they in fact are too good to be true.
As my right hon. Friend will know, a number of eminent former Government employees have spoken out on this issue in the past weeks and years. It is a hugely complex area, but he is, of course, right to imply that we should not put any one interest above our national security.
We are talking about 5G, but a lot of my constituents would quite like to see some 4G—or, frankly, any G at all.
In China, we face a political party, running a country, that believes it is perfectly acceptable to mount regular cyber-attacks on the network of the House of Commons and on key infrastructure in the UK. It frequently decides to engage in state-sponsored industrial espionage. It is difficult to see that it is a fair and honest broker for us to do business with.
I thought for a moment that the hon. Gentleman was going to welcome the shared rural network that we announced the other week, but he missed that opportunity. He is, of course, absolutely right that we have to put national security at the top of this agenda. That is what we will continue to do. Sometimes, we have to beware of some of the particular concerns around countries such as China.
The report last year from the Huawei oversight board to the Cabinet Office cited serious and systemic failings in cyber-security in the current Huawei network; even though those had been highlighted to the company, it had no credible plan to put things right. Does the Minister still share today the concerns raised by the oversight board? If the Government do share those concerns from advice they seek, why are they prepared to give a company such as Huawei more work? There are still serious concerns about the work it has already done.
It is the existence of bodies such as the oversight board that demonstrates just how concerned the Government are. That is one of the many aspects that will inform the decision that could be made tomorrow. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: when it comes to the penetration of the network by any one vendor, we should be sceptical about a decision that could look too good to be true.
I agree with the Minister about the necessity of national security above all else, but will he outline the impact on current 5G networks that make use of Huawei equipment, and will he tell us how much influence the United States dossier has had on his decision?
The hon. Gentleman has invited me to pre-empt a decision that has not yet been made, but I can say with absolute certainty that the Government pay very close attention to the advice of all our allies and will continue to do so. As for the impact of Huawei on the current network, the oversight board, and other organisations that were mentioned earlier, will of course ensure that any potentially adverse impact of one vendor or another is managed as well as it possibly can be.
The first and foremost job of Governments is to keep their people safe. Can my hon. Friend assure me that this Government will always prioritise national security? Has he noted that China allows no foreign involvement in its critical national infrastructure, and does he agree that that should at least give us pause for thought?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. She has a background of real expertise in this area, and she is an asset to the House in that respect. We should of course put national security at the very top of the agenda in all cases, and we should consider the approaches that all countries take to their own critical national infrastructures.
Let me first thank Tom Tugendhat for organising what seems to be an unofficial hustings for the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committees. It was very good of him. I think that the importance of this issue to both Committees, and to those standing for election as their Chairs, is that the Government have put freedom of religion and belief at the heart of their foreign policy. How, therefore, can they justify granting their investment to a company owned by the Communist party of China, who have been complicit in the brutal suppression of an ancient minority religious group, namely the Uighur Muslims?
I think that some candidates here will be disappointed that the hon. Gentleman thinks it is a hustings for just one Select Committee. However, he is absolutely right to focus on the incredibly important issue of human rights, which is a cornerstone of this country’s foreign policy and will continue to be so. In this instance we will, of course, put national security at the very top of our agenda, but we should never, and will never, forget the very important issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
If Huawei were to obtain the 5G contract and if it were to breach our national security, presumably the priority would be to ensure that the future contract, whoever obtained it, would be at the cost of Huawei. Would it therefore be sensible to seek some kind of bond—if Huawei were to obtain the contract—to ensure that it would pay for someone to replace it quickly if that were necessary?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is inviting me to enter into contractual negotiations already, which I am reluctant to do. However, he is of course absolutely right to say, or to imply, that the decision that will be made will have ramifications for many years. He is right to take that strategic long view, which is what the National Security Council will also do.
Any Members who chose to visit China—and I encourage all colleagues to do so—would, for instance, be advised by our security services not to take their smartphones. They would be told that even if the phones were turned off and the batteries were taken out, they would be compromised immediately upon landing on the Chinese mainland. In that context, how can we explain to our constituents that the Government are even considering allowing Chinese state-backed entities further access to critical UK infrastructure?
The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to that guidance, but it is of course the case that this country is profoundly different from China, and indeed any other country, in that we manage our relationships with mobile phone networks and technology in a very different way. Our agencies will continue to do that, and it is the right thing to do. However, I understand why the hon. Gentleman has raised the comparison, and I know that the National Security Council will consider it during its own deliberations.
I hope, not least in the light of these exchanges today, that when the Cabinet comes to consider the NSC’s recommendations—the Minister talked about the NSC making a decision, but actually the Cabinet should take this decision—it will in this instance decide that security considerations outweigh economic ones. Can my hon. Friend assure me that this country still has the capacity to provide a significant part of its own communications infrastructure?
My right hon. Friend is right to point out that this is technically a recommendation. He is also right to say that it is hugely important that we continue to provide large chunks of our own expertise, in regard to personnel as much as to the kit itself, and over the coming years, thanks to the investment of this Government in R&D, we will be providing more.
Huawei surveillance technology, as practised in Xinjiang, represents a massive public security cloud that is oppressing hundreds of thousands of Muslims in what can only be described as a repressive dystopian police state. How do we justify importing tools of mass surveillance and mass oppression that could still have foreign control? It just does not seem right.
To a certain extent, the hon. Member pre-empts the next urgent question that you have granted, Mr Speaker, but the principle of what he is talking about underneath that is that 5G is a revolution in a huge number of aspects. We need to get that right when it comes to everything from surveillance to industrial opportunity.
A report in Bloomberg Businessweek in 2018 revealed how Chinese firms had illicitly placed tiny chips on server motherboards intended for other countries. This revealed the impressive and terrifying capabilities of the Chinese state. Does the Minister agree that sometimes strong fences make good neighbours, and that we might legitimately want to trade and have good relationships with China but retain some core capabilities in our own state, in exactly the same way that it does?
My hon. Friend’s quote from a great American poet emphasises that it is important to get these decisions right, but it is also important to ensure that we get the boundaries right, and that is what we have to do, not just for now but for the years to come. That is what the National Security Council will recommend to Cabinet, I hope tomorrow.
Each day in this place, a Minister talks from the Dispatch Box about the importance of building a high-skilled economy, but it does not say much about the Government’s industrial strategy that we are not even considering our own domestic provider in this case. The Minister has said that that will change in time. What year?
I am tempted just to say “a coming year”, but the hon. Member is absolutely right to say that when it comes to growing our own talent, we have to look around the world and ask what countries other than Britain have done to deliver huge advances in infrastructure such as 5G. We also need to ask how we can ensure that, when it comes to 6G and 7G, a British company is on that spectrum as well.
Surely it is essential that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies. Huawei is already involved in our telecommunications network, so if the Government decide not to go further, how on earth do we get it out?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to suggest that we have to pay due regard to the great relationship that we have with the US, but we also have to pay attention to the unique position that we are in now, in order to determine the best way to manage this not just for the moment but for the long term. I know that that is what the National Security Council will be thinking about tomorrow.
Let’s cut to the chase. Can the Minister offer this House a 100% cast-iron guarantee that the resilience and security of digital connectivity in the UK will not be compromised by any future deal with Huawei?
Does the Minister agree that, however cheaply Huawei is offering this country the benefit of its 5G technology, if as a result of its participation in the project we risk jeopardising our position within the Five Eyes or our access to shared intelligence, Huawei’s price will be too high for us to pay?
My hon. Friend articulates well the value of our national security. This is not just about Britain, but about Britain’s place in the world among our allies. That starts in many ways with Five Eyes, but it goes a lot further. When we make this decision, we must ensure that those considerations are put at the top of the agenda.
The hon. Lady provides me with an opportunity to point to Public Health England and World Health Organisation advice that properly implemented 5G technology does not pose any significant risk to human health. The often genuinely worried people who have raised such concerns should be pointed to that advice, because the roll-out of 5G will not be done in a way that poses any risks to human health, regardless of the manufacturer involved.
Robust exchanges have obviously taken place with the United States and we know its opinions, but what discussions have the UK Government had with other Five Eyes allies, such as Australia and New Zealand, which have blocked the use of Huawei in their future 5G network, and Canada, which is still considering its options?
My hon. Friend is right to point to a whole host of countries. Germany is another one that is having a similar conversation, and I was there last week. Such conversations will be ongoing, but we should bear in mind that Britain starts in a unique position. International comparators are valuable, and the words of our allies should be given close attention, but none of them is in the unique position that the United Kingdom stands in at the moment.
From Hong Kong to the horn of Africa, China and its front companies have form in using technology for espionage and cyber-disruption. Given that some of our most important major allies have said no thanks to Huawei, and given that the costs of cyber-attacks can ultimately far outweigh the outlay on networks and hardware, what exactly is the downside of shopping around for a low-risk vendor from a country we can call an ally?
My hon. Friend highlights the dilemma that everybody faces in a world in which there are not as many vendors of this kit as we would all like. We have to balance the primary interest in national security against other things. He is right to say that we must consider the long-term consequences when it comes to cyber-attacks and the reputation of this country’s infrastructure around the world.
That question provides me with the opportunity to welcome my hon. Friend to her place representing that great constituency. Our 5G test beds and trials programme looked at rural areas and constituencies such as hers, so that we ensure that Britain leads the world when it comes to rolling out this technology.
The Minister quite rightly supports the case for open trade, but do we not also need fair trade? When making such decisions, should we not take into account the fact that companies such as Huawei receive significant financial support from the state, which puts western companies at a competitive disadvantage?
My hon. Friend is right to underline just how complex the decision will be, and that is yet another aspect to be considered. It is also important to say that national security will come top of the agenda.
Many Birmingham businesses are hugely excited by the roll-out of 5G, especially because of the productivity and job creation opportunities, but they are also nervous about what they read in the press. Will the Minister assure me and businesses in Birmingham that he will do everything within his power to ensure that the 5G network will be sufficiently safe?
I have spoken to Andy Street, the great Mayor of the West Midlands, about precisely this topic. The roll-out of 5G in the west midlands will bring huge potential benefits to businesses, but of course it will bring no benefit at all if people doubt the security of Britain’s infrastructure, which is why we will always put it at the very top in Birmingham and beyond.