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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 3:15 pm on 10th March 2020.

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Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire 3:15 pm, 10th March 2020

I shall be brief. I begin by thanking the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary for their great courtesy and the huge attention they have given to several of us to try to find a resolution, because unfortunately some of us find the Government’s position incomprehensible. They had a good narrative: they could have said, “We have inherited a very bad position from preceding Conservative and Labour Governments. We would like to reduce the current position, where we have a high-risk vendor implanted in our 4G and other networks, to zero over a period of time.” That would be a perfectly logical plan, and we are tantalisingly close to the Government saying that. They have acknowledged that Huawei is high risk. Having a limit of 35% is a bit of a nonsense: it is like saying prisoners are allowed to build 35% of a prison wall. If 35% is a risk, and we cannot go above 35%, the obvious, ineluctable conclusion is that we should go to zero over a period of time.

We know that the talk of lack of alternatives is a nonsense—we have been through this. We know Samsung is supplying Korea; we know France has gone for others; the United States has gone for Ericsson; and Australia, with a huge dependence on Chinese exports, has gone for other vendors. We know there are other vendors, so that is all a nonsense.

We know there is a real risk. It is worth looking at the National Cyber Security Centre report. My right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith quoted two lines from paragraph 5.5.2. I just want to quote one sentence:

“Any national dependence on a high risk vendor would present a significant national security risk.”

Having had the honour of serving on the National Security Council as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I know that we must take that as the absolute first priority. I take the House back to the words of the Under-Secretary last week. He made it very clear:

“I conclude by saying simply that national security will always be at the top of our priorities and we will work to move towards no involvement of high-risk vendors.”—[Official Report, 4 March 2020;
Vol. 672, c. 299WH.]

That was the Government’s position last week, and I am happy to support that position. What we need to have today is confirmation of how we get there.

The Secretary of State has moved a long way since the National Security Council. We will have a telecoms Bill in early summer. We will have a process with our Five Eyes partners, as proposed by the senators’ letter, which we all received last week. That is all thoroughly good stuff. All we need now is a commitment to say there will be an end date. We have to have from this debate a statement from the Government that there will be a point, in the reasonably near future, where there will be zero involvement of high-risk vendors. The briefing we had sent round to us this afternoon said that

“our intention is to further reduce the market share of high risk vendors so that we get to a position where we do not have to use a high risk vendor in our telecoms network.”

The Secretary of State said that we wanted to be a in a position where we do not have to use them at all, but that is where we are this afternoon. Nobody has to use this equipment: they are just driven to do so by commercial pressures, and it is only by doing what the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea have done, which is to block and stop high-risk vendors, that we will allow other vendors to grow, to prosper and to supply.

I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary back in his seat and talking to the Secretary of State. They have time still to intervene on me and give a clear commitment that when the telecoms Bill comes through in the summer, it will contain a definitive commitment to a firm date by which all high-risk vendors will have been removed from our system.