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Code rights in respect of land connected to leased premises

Part of Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 10th March 2020.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy) 1:30 pm, 10th March 2020

My hon. Friend raises a really important point. It is worth clarifying that we support the position of the NCSC and I have said that the risks can be managed, but the fact is that we see no evidence that the risks are being managed. They are not being managed in the way in which the NCSC has said that they can, should and need to be managed. There is no evidence of that, and that is the key reason for amendment 4.

Amendment 1, in the name of Sir Iain Duncan Smith, is similar in some ways to our amendment. The House will not be surprised to learn that I disagree passionately with him and many of his hon. Friends about many very important issues, but we have a shared concern for our national technological capability and our national security. Labour’s amendment 4 differs from his amendment in two ways. First, our amendment would apply with immediate effect, whereas amendment 1 would apply from 2023. Secondly, our amendment would only apply to newly deployed infrastructure, whereas amendment 1 —as I understand it—would apply universally, to all telecommunications network deployment.

I differ from some Government Members on the nature and level of the threat from Huawei. As I said, I follow the guidance of the National Cyber Security Centre, but the problem is that we have no indication that the Government are following that guidance. There is no legislation. There is no plan for legislation. There is no detail on the nature of the regulator. We understand that it is proposed that Ofcom would take up these regulatory powers, but what are the powers, and what are the resources at a time when Ofcom is also being asked to regulate not only the BBC but the internet? What are the resources, what are the powers and what are the enforcement mechanisms?

Meanwhile, people across the country are concerned. Constituents have written to me to ask if their data has to flow over high-risk infrastructure. They may be objecting on security grounds or, equally, on their understanding of the human rights and employment rights record of Huawei in China, but either way they do not understand the Government’s lack of action.

In tabling this amendment, we are not only, as it were, bringing problems to the Government—we are also offering solutions. I have made detailed proposals for potential ways in which we can diversify our telecoms supply chain: an industrial strategy for the telecommunications sector based around a five-point plan involving standards, research and development, a new catapult centre, working with the Department for International Development and with Commonwealth and emerging markets, and support for non-5G wireless technologies. All of this is to enable innovation around networks, business models and more.

The good news is that in tech you are never so far behind that you cannot leapfrog existing technology. The bad news is that it takes investment and strategic vision—qualities, I am afraid, that this Government appear to lack. Huawei is a test of both. Last week, in the Westminster Hall debate secured by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, I put 10 questions to the Minister, which he was unable to answer. I will not repeat them here, but—[Interruption.] The Minister appears surprised from a sedentary position. I did not receive an answer to my 10 questions. I could repeat them here, but I have written to him to give him the opportunity to encourage the Secretary of State to do so later. Truly, it astounds me that a Government who are, for ideological regions, apparently reluctant to take initiatives on UK state intervention seem so reluctant to set out how they are going to prevent Chinese state intervention in our industry and our economy.

Amendment 5 is related in that it seeks to ensure that operators who roll out infrastructure as a result of this Bill have clear and published plans in place to remove vendors who are designated high risk and a national security concern. Clearly—I think there has been some consensus on this in the debate—it is for the Government to bring forward the promised plans to manage the presence of high-risk vendors in the network. However, in the absence of such plans, the amendment places a duty of transparency on the operators to publicly report on their use of high-risk vendors and their plans to meet the target of 35% set out by the National Cyber Security Centre.

Amendment 3, which was also tabled in Committee, is critical and relevant to some of the earlier debate regarding the record of the Labour Government. We believe that we can go much further in broadband market competition. During my six years at Ofcom, it was established beyond doubt that telecoms infrastructure competition drives investment, innovation and choice. In relation to the previous debate on high-risk vendors, had we had greater competition, we would have had greater choice and would not be in the position of being dependent on two, or possibly three, suppliers. Under Labour, first generation—