Telecommunications (Security) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:28 pm on 30th November 2020.

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Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin 7:28 pm, 30th November 2020

I welcome the introduction of the Bill. It is long overdue. Over the past two years, the Government have attributed a range of significant cyber-attacks to Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. Such attacks are unlikely to reduce any time soon, but our legislative and technological resilience can increase in the meantime. The UK needs to be proactive in staying ahead of its adversaries, rather than just reactive. The Bill and the National Security and Investment Bill will help in that regard.

The attacks, often through arm’s length third parties, include dangerous espionage attacks, often on the networks of companies that deliver equipment to telecom providers but whose security is currently inadequate. That can no longer be acceptable, and the Bill will go a long way to making the UK’s networks more secure.

I would like to pay tribute, as has already been done, to my predecessors on the ISC, who, in the Committee’s 2013 report “Foreign involvement in the Critical National Infrastructure”, noted that

“there is no general requirement on companies that own CNI assets to inform or consult Government prior to awarding a contract, whether that be to a UK company or a foreign company. Instead, the Government relies on informal processes or the private company taking the initiative themselves. This is far too haphazard an approach given what is at stake.”

The same Committee also stated:

“Government must have a proper procedure for assessing the risks…and also for developing a strategy for managing those risks. Crucially, this should be an integral part of the process, both before and after contracts are awarded, and not merely an afterthought.”

I hope that the Bill marks a national security turning point, where key infrastructure decisions are based on fact-based risk assessments, not on trust, commercial convenience, political convenience or naivety.

Of course, the Bill is also a recognition—I differ from some colleagues—of market failure. The dominance of major telecoms companies, driving out or buying out the competition, has led to companies such as Huawei positioning themselves as perhaps too big to fail or, in the context of the telecoms market, too big not to buy from, or too big not to supply to. In my view, that is down to political and commercial failure, and I am glad that the Government are putting wrong—putting right that wrong. [Interruption.] I was just making sure that the Minister is on his toes—not literally, but I am glad he is paying attention. I am glad that the Government are putting that right; it is long overdue, as I said.

I hope that the new diversification strategy that has been alluded to today will include enough commercial incentives to attract new vendors and suppliers into the market for the first time, or for existing providers to seek new capital raises in order to maximise new markets, many of them in the public sector—the public sector is a good customer in most cases—and global in nature.

I hope that there might be a new global collaboration in joint development of 6G, 7G and beyond. Five Eyes-based companies might be a good place to start, but trusted EU partners can play a key part too. I think about Airbus and the collaboration on civilian airframes across the world; I think about Typhoon and, prior to that, Tornado—large collaboration, R&D developmental projects that brought together trusted partners around the world to look after our national security, albeit on a different platform and in a different context.

As it stands, as we have already heard, there are only three potential suppliers of mobile access network equipment in the UK: Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei. The lack of diversity across the telecoms supply chain has invariably led—that is why we are here today—to a national dependence on limited suppliers.