New Clause 3 - Network diversification

Telecommunications (Security) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 25th May 2021.

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Votes in this debate

‘(1) The Secretary of State must publish an annual report on the impact of progress of the diversification of the telecommunications supply chain on the security of public electronic communication networks and services.

(2) The report required by subsection (1) must include an assessment of the effect on the security of those networks and services of—

(a) progress in network diversification set against the most recent telecommunications diversification strategy presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State;

(b) likely changes in ownership or trading position of existing market players;

(c) changes to the diversity of the supply chain for network equipment;

(d) new areas of market consolidation and diversification risk including the cloud computing sector;

(e) progress made in any aspects of the implementation of the diversification strategy not covered by subsection (a);

(f) the public funding which is available for diversification.

(3) The Secretary of State must lay the report before Parliament.

(4) A Minister of the Crown must, not later than two months after the report has been laid before Parliament, make a motion in the House of Commons in relation to the report.”—(Chi Onwurah.)

This new clause requires the Secretary of State to report on the impact of the Government’s diversification strategy on the security of telecommunication networks and services, and allow for a debate in the House of Commons on the report.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 14 Telecommunications (Security) Bill — New Clause 3 - Network diversification

Aye: 272 MPs

No: 356 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


The House divided: Ayes 271, Noes 357.

Question accordingly negatived.

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.

Third Reading

Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 5:03 pm, 25th May 2021

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions today, and I also thank the excellent team of Clerks of the House, those at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and all those involved in the preparation of the Bill. In particular, I thank those who work at our agencies to support so much of what goes into our national security: they are the best among us, and all of us in the House are grateful for their service.

The first priority of this Government is to keep people safe and this Bill is just one step in achieving that objective. It is a precise and technical Bill but an important one none the less. While we might have disagreed on some of the details, it is encouraging that there is such broad consensus across this place and I hope that that spirit of co-operation continues when the other place considers the Bill.

The Bill will ensure the security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks for years to come. Bringing it into force on Royal Assent cannot come soon enough. It will create one of the toughest regimes for telecoms security in the world. It will protect our networks and shield our critical national infrastructure both now and in the future, as technologies grow and evolve. With this Bill, we are delivering on our commitments in the 2019 telecoms supply chain review, which were informed by the advice from the world-leading NCSC and GCHQ. Today, we have taken an important step towards putting those commitments on a statutory footing and taking action to protect and secure our important networks.

I hope that, in my response to the amendments and new clauses, I provided reassurance on the role of Ofcom, the importance of diversification and the other matters raised. I welcome the constructive challenge of Members on those points, and I hope I have reassured them that we are pushing in the same direction. I thank all Members for their contributions. I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to it passing through the other place.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 5:06 pm, 25th May 2021

I thank the Minister for his statement and echo his remarks in thanking all the Clerks and officials of the House and the Department who worked on the Bill, as well as our security services for the protection they provide day and night and for the input of the NCSC and GCHQ to the Bill.

I want to make it clear that the Labour party supports the Bill as a necessary step in protecting our telecoms national security. It is important that we legislate to ensure that Government have the power to act when faced with circumstances such as those presented by Huawei or, even better, to prevent dependency on high-risk vendors from arising in the first place. We will therefore not oppose the Bill on Third Reading. We recognise that national security is the first duty of every Government, and we support the measures to promote national security in the Bill.

At every stage of the Bill’s passage, we have seen an engaged and informed level of debate. As a chartered telecoms engineer, I particularly welcome the time that the House is spending on considering our telecoms infrastructure, even in these circumstances, which are to be regretted: we should not have got here. Parts of our debate have resembled a wake for the telecoms sector we could have had with a UK sovereign capability. The telecoms sector should have been subject to a more active, proactive interest for years now—or, shall I say, 10 years? We have lacked a telecoms industrial strategy and that, together with a focus on foreign investment over national security, is why we are here. Successive Conservative Governments have allowed the telecoms sector in the UK to be dominated by a high-risk vendor. Competition on price rather than security has become the rule for the telecoms operators. The market failed, but Ministers did not notice; they thought that security could be left to the market.

This is at a time when digital has become part of every part of our lives. We now spend a quarter of our waking hours on the internet. The UK telecoms industry contributes £32 billion to the economy and directly provides nearly a quarter of a million jobs. It has an impact on all our lives. As we are experiencing during the pandemic, it is an enabler of almost everything we do, and in the future—by which I mean in the next few years—it will bring about even more significant changes to how we live, work and engage with one another.

From driverless cars to advanced manufacturing, digital connectivity is essential. Indeed, we can argue that the pandemic has given us a taste of the future and moved the future closer. It has shown us how important good, fast, stable connectivity is, with millions still depending on it to work from home and stay in contact with friends and family. The pandemic has encouraged—indeed, required—a mass migration online, with businesses that were not digital-ready suddenly forced to operate online. It is salutary to recall that before covid there was a question of whether broadband was a vital utility. That was a matter of debate; it was debated as part of the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act 2021. The pandemic has since proved beyond doubt that telecoms is an essential utility, but, although our telecoms infrastructure has held up during the pandemic—I congratulate telecoms operators on that—it could have been so much better. Many in rural areas or unable to afford decent broadband will not thank me for praising our telecoms networks.

When Labour left office, we had world-leading infrastructure. That is no longer the case. We are now 47th in the world for broadband speeds. I say that to emphasise the significance of the upheaval that the sector is facing after the Government’s decision to strip Huawei out of the network, at a cost of £2 billion and two to three years delay to 5G roll-out. It is a decision that we supported and continue to support, but we cannot let solving one problem give rise to numerous more. Unfortunately, the holes that remain in this Bill will do just that. Let me emphasise how important this Bill is in ensuring that we get regulation and investment right for a sector that contributes so much to our economy, as well as to our work and social lives.

We must make sure that we do not find ourselves in a similar position again, and that our telecoms network and supply chains are resilient and protected in future—even, critically, as the geopolitical environment evolves. Our telecoms infrastructure lacks security and resilience. The Government have taken no steps to maintain or develop a sovereign telecommunications capability, and their broadband strategy—if we can call it that—has far more U-turns, dither and delay than meaningful policies.

The Bill is passing to the other place with significant failings. The first is national security. Labour prioritises national security. The Secretary of State and the Minister both agreed during the proceedings that the Bill needed to include sweeping powers to address matters of national security, so we remain concerned that the Committee that provides parliamentary oversight on matters of national security is being excluded from oversight of the measures in the Bill.

Secondly, the security of our networks depends on an effective plan to diversify the supply chain. As our amendments have fallen, the Bill still does not even mention supply chain diversification or the diversification taskforce, even though we all agree that we cannot have a robust and secure network with only two service providers, which is the number that we will have left once Huawei is removed from our networks.

I am going to say this once more for the Minister: we need a diversified supply chain and that means a diversity of suppliers at different points of the supply chain. Britain has great start-ups that are just desperate to help address this issue. Where is the support for them? The future of telecoms networks is moving away from closed, proprietary boxes to open interfaces and innovation in the cloud. That provides a real opportunity for some of our innovative companies, but the Government have still not laid out how this is to be realised, as their own diversification taskforce report recently made clear. Is the UK going to benefit from the costly debacle of ripping out Huawei—an integrated supplier? Right now, the only beneficiaries would appear to be Ericsson, Nokia and lawyers. We put the Government on notice that we will be holding them to account on that.

Thirdly, the Bill gives sweeping new powers and responsibilities to Ofcom. This follows a vast and continuing expansion of Ofcom’s remit. Ofcom lacks experience in national security, and changes to its duties will require the recruitment of people with the required level of security clearance and experience. The Minister and the Government have sought to evade scrutiny on that. We will seek to hold them to account. As part of that, we are very concerned that the Bill in its current form is not forward thinking enough. It lacks the processes to provide the foresight needed to ensure that we are not in this same position again. Where is the horizon-scanning function to identify emerging threats and potential weaknesses in UK telecoms providers’ asset registers? If our networks became dependent on one cloud service provider, such as Amazon Web Services, how would we know?

To conclude, we support the Bill as a necessary measure to protect our telecoms national security interests, but we are concerned that the Government have allowed ideology to undermine effectiveness when it comes to this Bill, and we will continue to seek to improve it.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham 5:15 pm, 25th May 2021

I agree with Chi Onwurah: this is a Bill to try to block hostile states and organisations from breaching our national security, and its intentions are absolutely on target, and all of us agree with them.

I do not believe that we will not have to revisit parts of the Bill to ensure that in the end Parliament is sovereign over information. For instance, it does not seem right that Ministers and Ministries keep the information to themselves and it is not passed on, albeit in redacted form or through the ISC.

We have to get oversight right, so in the end we may have to revisit the legislation in the next few months and years as a result of the experience we have. I hope not—I hope the Minister is right that we will be able to have oversight without having to revisit the legislation, but I suspect we might not. There it is—I promised to be short, and I will sit down now.

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:17 pm, 25th May 2021

I am a strong believer that brevity is a great charm of eloquence, so that is a statement that would be well taken on board by the shadow Minister in future. I was hoping for a power cut in Newcastle—I am being kind.

First, I place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend Richard Thomson for his partaking in the debate on Second Reading. He did us a great service in that regard. I also thank Josh Simmonds-Upton in our research team, who put a great deal of effort into the Bill.

This is a Bill that we will support. We will give it close scrutiny moving forward, and I hope that the Government will work on good terms with the Scottish Government moving forward in this regard.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am going to suggest that as we go through the next motions, the Serjeant at Arms sanitises just the Government Dispatch Box in order for us to save a little time.