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Moved by Baroness Falkner of Margravine
9: Clause 1, page 2, line 14, at end insert—“(f) the operator does not, after
I shall beg noble Lords’ indulgence for a few minutes. I did not have an opportunity to speak at Second Reading, as I was advised not to come to Parliament, but I was assured that this would be an opportunity for me to do so.
I welcome the Bill and its aims to improve access to faster broadband and provide greater choice for tenants and leaseholders. My interest in the Bill, as people will see from my amendment, is very specific; it is to do with what we as a country see as critical infrastructure and how we protect our strategic interests to keep our critical infrastructure safe as technology becomes more complex.
I served on the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy from 2013 to 2016, when Huawei first came on to our radar, and two significant changes happened in that period. We saw the invasion of a sovereign state on the edge of Europe—the Russian annexation of Crimea—and the installation of President Xi Jinping as head of the Chinese Communist Party, bringing a more assertive, and perhaps what some would describe as more aggressive, tone into China’s international relations. Both have had a profound impact on geopolitics and potentially on security.
China’s companies have long been on our radar in the West for theft of intellectual property, from both business enterprises and research institutions. While I accept that there has always been a level of industrial espionage, with leakages from more advanced economies into those that are new challengers in particular sectors, the international community has attempted to deal openly with China on this. President Obama sought, and attained, an assurance from President Xi that the Chinese Government would clamp down on intellectual property theft, but there is little evidence that much has changed.
The difference is that China is now actively using its economic clout to advance its strategic and geopolitical interests, many of which run counter to our interests, and indeed our freedoms, here in the UK. Huawei is the world’s largest telecommunications company, and there is no reason that it should not be a trusted partner if it were like any other global telecoms firm. The point is that it is not. It has a long history of transgressions, not only in the West but more broadly. Moreover, it is subject to Chinese state security and other intelligence-related laws. These were updated in 2017 and now require Huawei, like other Chinese companies, to hand over data flowing through it to the Chinese state. It is effectively an arm of the state for the purposes of data capture and exploitation. If that was not the intention of the law, as Huawei tells us, the Chinese Government have done nothing to repudiate or amend the law in the period since. In other words, it is the intention of the Chinese Government to control worldwide data that Huawei collects, if they wish to.
There are examples of how this works. The African Union built a new headquarters in Addis Ababa in 2012. An accountant noticed that there was a huge energy consumption surge between midnight and the early hours of the morning in the period between 2012 and 2017. It transpired that data on Huawei’s servers was being transmitted back to Shenzhen covertly in those hours, hence the server activity.
There are many other examples of Huawei’s cyberactivities. The Equifax consumer credit hack recently resulted in millions of US consumers’ data being stolen. Additionally, 12.3 million Britons had their credit card details stolen. That hack was linked to Huawei and the People’s Liberation Army. I find it instructive that when BT involved Huawei in its 21st Century Network plan in 2005, information about Huawei’s involvement was withheld from Ministers and came to light some time later—in a 2013 report of the Intelligence and Security Committee, at the time chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind. If the Minister is not aware of its contents, I suggest she apprise herself of it, because it is fairly sobering.
I turn to my specific amendments. I know the UK Government’s position is that we want to roll out increased speed and capacity in our networks to benefit our businesses and consumers. I agree with that. However, the internet of things is here and requires improved capacity. I also agree with that. But Huawei’s involvement in this, even limited to 35% of the non-critical part of the infrastructure, is not something I feel comfortable with. It is incumbent on us to take our strategic national security vulnerabilities seriously, as we are planning not for the next five to seven years but for the next 20 to 30. There are several reasons for this. One is that we should not be so reliant on others for our sensitive and critical needs. One has only to look at the impact of the US-China trade war, and the impact on supply chains exacerbated now by Covid-19, to know that deglobalisation is starting. We in the UK are erecting barriers to our trade with the EU, yet think nothing of allowing companies that are more or less arms of other states into our systems, instead of developing our own capacities as France is attempting to do.
Another reason to be wary is that alternatives do exist. The US is proceeding with Ericsson, South Korea is using Samsung, but most importantly our Five Eyes allies have all rejected the Huawei option and are assessing alternatives. There is no burning imperative to take the decision now, and I fear it was rushed through. We will have to either repeal or regret this decision, unless we come up with safeguards that satisfy our concerns. The demonstration effect of letting Huawei into our system will lull other countries into the view that it is a safe alternative.
The Government tell us that the 35% of market share of Huawei infrastructure will be non-core and non-sensitive, but they do not acknowledge that the crucial difference between 4G and 5G is that, due to the internet of things, 5G networks are largely software-defined, so updates pushed to the network by the manufacturer can radically change how they operate. If a network is run by an untrusted vendor, that vendor can change what the network can do quite easily using software updates. The Australians have stressed this point over and over—namely, that you cannot safeguard against intent. If a provider is bound by its state’s law to do something, it is not its capability that is relevant but its intent. It is a combination of capability, where 5G is more vulnerable, and the intent of a provider that has to do a state’s bidding by law.
The Government also tell us that GCHQ has advised the National Security Council, and that they are acting on the advice of the NSC. However, it was pointed out in a Commons debate by Bob Seely MP on
“only provide limited assurance that all risks to UK national security from Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s critical networks can be sufficiently mitigated … The Oversight Board advises that it will be difficult to appropriately risk-manage future products in the context of UK deployments, until the underlying defects in
As recently as February 2020, the US Government have claimed in a report that backdoors intended for law enforcement officials in carriers’ equipment, such as antennae and routers installed since 2009, can be accessed by certain vendors.
Amendments 9 and 14 are based very much on Labour and Conservative Party amendments as of
I will conclude by explaining to the Committee why I have tabled these amendments. We all acknowledge that Virtual Proceedings are inadequate for proper scrutiny of legislation. My experience is that, even in normal proceedings, Ministers are sometimes not quite as well informed as they might be. On
“I give her and the whole House the absolute assurance that high-risk vendors never have been and never will be involved in our most sensitive networks”.—[Official Report, 27/1/20; col. 1300.]
She clearly did not know from the Intelligence and Security Committee’s 2013 report that BT had involved Huawei from quite far back. Huawei is present on the ground in our networks. I am sure that she did not intend in any sense to mislead the House, but many of us who are concerned about these matters would be reassured by having these amendments in the Bill, although I accept that it is perhaps not the ideal vehicle for them—in fact, it is concerned with some things that I wholeheartedly support. If the Government accepted the amendment it would strengthen the Minister’s hand in giving a clear plan to the telecommunications sector regarding its obligations. It will reassure many in the country who have a clearer view of our security risks.
I should have said that I do not intend to press the amendment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, has made an extremely powerful speech. She has also been extremely ingenious in finding a way to bring this big geostrategic issue into the consideration of a Bill that has a very limited scope. However, given that it is to do with telecoms infrastructure and that one of the single biggest issues in upgrading our telecoms infrastructure is the degree to which we will be reliant on partnerships with Chinese companies, she is perfectly entitled to do so.
I assume that the clerks have ruled that the noble Baroness’s amendment is within the Bill’s scope, otherwise she would not be proposing it. Perhaps when she concludes at the end of this group, she can tell us that it has indeed been ruled within the scope of the Bill. If that is the case, I urge her to bring it back on Report, because, beyond the crisis, there is no more important issue facing Parliament than our relations with China. Indeed, the issue is related to the Covid crisis because the origins of the disease in Wuhan and the way the Chinese regime has dealt with it are central to the Covid-19 crisis. A critical issue that we are having to grapple with is how we get to the facts and the reforms to the international world health architecture that will be necessary which relate to the facts of the outbreak of this disease.
In turn, that relates to this issue because, if the Chinese state chooses to take retaliatory action in relation to our infrastructure pursuant to stances that we might take on health-related issues, it is absolutely relevant to a telecommunications Bill that we should seek to ensure that the Government do not expose the country to retaliatory action in that way.
The noble Baroness referred to the US-China trade war as pertinent, but noble Lords will have woken up this morning to the news that a US-Australia trade war is potentially about to start, with retaliatory tariffs being imposed on the Australians, apparently because Australia wants to see an independent international inquiry led by the United Nations into the outbreak of Covid-19. This retaliatory trade tariff situation is not arising in respect of telecoms in the case of Australia—but, notably, Australia excluded Huawei and Chinese state companies from the building of its most modern telecoms infrastructure. We are not doing so and, as the noble Baroness said, we are potentially very reliant on the Chinese.
Therefore we are looking to the Minister to explain to us how the latest crisis impacts on the Government’s thinking in respect of allowing Huawei to participate in what the Government have termed non-critical infrastructure, but which many of us think is critical infrastructure if it relates to the rollout of 5G and superfast broadband.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and I am extremely happy to be able to support Amendments 9 and 14, standing in the name of my good friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, and so ably moved by her this afternoon.
In tackling risks posed by high-risk vendors, she opens an extraordinarily important debate. Amendment 9 imposes a deadline on operators, and Amendment 14 puts in place a mechanism to ensure their removal should it be shown that they pose a national security concern. To pick up on a point the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, just made, I am delighted that the clerks have ruled the amendments to be within scope, and I hope that it will be possible, as I shall suggest in my later remarks, for us to build on them further on Report. However, in addition to supporting the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, I too am grateful to the Government for facilitating Second Reading speeches this afternoon.
These proceedings take me back to 1981, when in the House of Commons I served on the Standing Committee which considered the British Telecommunications Act 1981. It was a steep learning curve for me. Plessey was based in my Liverpool constituency, and it was inspiring to see British technology and companies at the very cutting edge. It is lamentable to see how far we have fallen back in manufacturing capacity. If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is surely that we must become more resilient and less dependent in our supply chains, especially when so many authoritarian countries mock our liberal values. Even worse, it cannot be in the United Kingdom’s interests to have become so dependent on authoritarian regimes for the manufacture of technology which can be utilised by them for anti-democratic purposes, to undermine free societies, human rights and the rule of law.
That is why I hope to build on these two admirable amendments when we come to Report. I am grateful to have received through correspondence over the weekend the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Adonis.
We should all do more to ensure that high-risk vendors credibly accused of egregious abuses of human rights, such as complicity in the modern slavery of Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China, will be excluded from being beneficiaries of the provisions of this legislation. In this context, I should mention that I am a vice-chairman of the APPG on Uighurs and human rights in Xinjiang and that, on 15 occasions since 2018, I have raised in your Lordships’ House the plight of the Uighurs: their incarceration, forced re-education and use as slave labour in various ways.
In January, in relation to Huawei and 5G, I asked the Government
“what assessment they have made in relation to their decision to award contracts to Huawei and other companies of the implications of the government of China’s National Intelligence Law requiring Chinese organisations and citizens to support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work.”
I also asked the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, and the Government about
“Huawei’s compliance with the Modern Slavery Act” and
“what consideration they have given to such compliance in regard to their decision to award contracts to Huawei”.
“The UK Government expressed its concerns about China’s systematic human rights violations in Xinjiang, including credible and growing reports of forced labour, during the recent UN Human Rights Council.”
That deftly dodged my question and the issue of what we are going to do about the use of slave labour in our supply chains. Profiteering on the broken backs of enslaved Uighurs is either a criminal offence under British law or it is not. Either it is a nice slogan and good public relations or we take it deadly seriously and refuse to profit from it.
Be in no doubt about what we know. As long ago as December 2018, I pointed to reports that
“suggest that up to 1 million Uighurs have been incarcerated without trial in a network of sinister re-education camps: these
The Government do not disagree with these descriptions.
“of reports that the government of China transferred Uighurs from detention centres to work in factories where products are produced for global brands; and what plans they have to take action against such companies under the provisions of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.”
“Recent reports indicating that Uyghurs are being used as a source of forced labour add to the growing body of evidence about the disturbing situation that Uyghurs and other minorities are facing in Xinjiang. Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires companies operating in the UK with a turnover of £36m or more to publish annual statements setting out what steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery in their organisation and supply chains. The Home Office keeps compliance under active review.”
“We have also seen credible evidence to suggest that Uighurs are being used as a source of forced labour in Xinjiang and across China, and that if individuals refuse to participate, they and their families are threatened with extra-judicial detention.”
He went on to say:
“Our intelligence is that families are also obliged to host Chinese officials in their homes for extended periods, to demonstrate their loyalty to the Communist party. On the streets, Uighurs and other minorities are continuously watched by police, supported by extensive use of facial recognition technology and restrictions on movement.”—[Official Report, Commons, 11/3/20; cols. 149-50WH.]
That was the Government, but in a report entitled Uyghurs for sale, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute outlined how Uighurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities are uprooted, wrenched from their villages, separated from their loved ones, and coercively transported under guard, across China, to work in factories. That report estimates that, between 2017 and 2019, around 80,000 Uighurs were transferred from detention centres in Xinjiang to factories throughout China. Far from their homes, devoid of family contact, incarcerated in segregated dormitories and subjected to propaganda and systematic attempts to destroy their culture, religion and identity, the labourers are kept under 24-hour surveillance. The report examines the direct and indirect supply chains of 83 leading global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, such as Apple, BMW, Huawei, Nike and others.
Are these companies directly complicit? One of the Australian institute’s researchers, Vicky Xu, says that the idea that Huawei is not working directly with local governments in Xinjiang is “just straight-up nonsense”. The 2018 announcement of one Huawei public security project in Xinjiang—as posted on a Chinese government website in Urumqi—quoted a Huawei director as saying:
“Together with the Public Security Bureau, Huawei will unlock a new era of smart policing and help build a safer, smarter society.”
This is not speculation, or evidence extrapolated from big data. This is straight from the horse’s mouth. We all know that safer, smarter policing is a euphemism that would make George Orwell roll in his grave. Huawei is making huge profits from Xinjiang’s unique techno-totalitarianism.
In December, our Government were alerted to the Australian report in a joint letter from parliamentarians from across both Houses, but again they sidestepped the issue. Their reply to us ignored the need for the Government to conduct the same human rights due diligence that they now demand of corporations. Where is that due diligence in the Bill? The more dependent we become on firms whose ties with the Chinese state extend as far as the construction of Xinjiang’s surveillance technology, the harder it will become to take a credible stance. The deeper our dependency becomes, the harder it is to stand up for our values. Huawei’s activities in Xinjiang should alert us to its true allegiances and values: its willingness to create mass surveillance technology and its devotion to, and dependency on, the Chinese Communist Party.
The most striking thing in the Government’s Statement to Parliament in January was the repeated admission of the risks involved, but where is that reflected in the Bill? And why take risks when alternatives are available? In January, like the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, I asked the Government to consider whether, in former times, the United Kingdom would have been willing to put its technology into the hands of the Kremlin, knowing what crimes were being committed in the gulags of Siberia, as in The Gulag Archipelago. The human rights-focused Helsinki process helped to bring an end to the Cold War and liberated the people suffering under the yoke of communist ideology. Today we need Helsinki with Chinese characteristics. We do not need to betray our values.
To mark Holocaust Memorial Day this year, I read Corrie ten Boom’s memoir, The Hiding Place. After sheltering Jews from the Nazi regime, Ms ten Boom was sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. She describes her experience of doing forced labour for Siemens in the camps where her sister and many others died. The Holocaust saw state-sponsored mass enslavement on an appalling scale. Ironically, on the morning following Holocaust Memorial Day, the United Kingdom National Security Council committed to sign over up to 35% of our 5G infrastructure to Huawei, a company that the Government know actively partners with the Xinjiang Government to make the world’s most dystopian system of governance possible. Is what happened at Ravensbrück, or in The Gulag Archipelago, so very different from the plight of these 1 million Uighur Muslims, incarcerated and forced to work for nothing? It is surely our duty to ensure that legislation such as this does not further entrench what academics have described as the world’s worst incident of state-sanctioned slavery.
The United Kingdom Government have, admirably, expressed their ambition to lead the world in their anti-slavery commitment. When we come to Report, I hope that the Government will put flesh on the bones of that commitment and ensure that no deals are made with any company for which there are credible reports of slave labour. For now, I support the amendment standing in the noble Baroness’s name.
I thank noble Lords for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I will speak to Amendments 9 and 14, but, as I did not speak at Second Reading and before I get to Amendment 9, it is important to set out some context.
I am pleased to see that both Houses are now focusing on business other than the current virus crisis. We have already been reminded today that our democracy is dependent on fast and reliable broadband, and we have seen the struggles that some of us have had with that. Therefore, fast and reliable broadband connectivity has become a national utility and something that people should expect as a right.
It is right that we pay tribute to all those who have kept that national utility going in the past few weeks, as we rely more and more on wi-fi, broadband and mobile connectivity. Although the people who have kept such critical national services going are perhaps not often referred to as key workers, I think that they should be included as such. They have connected loved-ones in hospitals, often at the worst possible time in anyone’s life, and provided online access to education—the subject of a wider debate. They have enabled online appointments for doctors working from home, which is a working pattern that is likely to continue, and family harmony—if anything is to be taken from the example of how much time my 12 year-old spends on his Xbox.
Therefore, the Prime Minister and the Government were right to make a clear commitment to gigabit connectivity nationwide by 2025, and it is important that Ministers stick with that target. I know from my time as Culture Secretary just how personally committed the Prime Minister is to this. Having that target of 2025 should concentrate minds both within government and outside in terms of those responsible for the rollout. I hope that there will be no let-up in making sure that the target is achieved.
Having better connectivity across the country is part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. It will also be part of necessary infrastructure spend, which will be very important in getting our economy moving after at least the first wave of the current crisis has passed and we can see how much work needs to be done to get our economy restarted.
This Bill is an important part of removing all barriers to faster broadband rollout. As we have heard, it is about accessing premises where leaseholders want better broadband. In a similar vein, I know that the department is working on removing other barriers to deployment. Another important step will be making sure that all new-build developments have broadband connectivity points installed right from the start so that people do not have to move into new homes or new business premises only to find that they cannot get better connectivity.
This is a short and focused Bill. That is why I argue today that Amendments 9 and 14, although very important—as we have heard, noble Lords feel very strongly about the issues under discussion—are not right for this Bill. I know that the Secretary of State made a commitment in the other place to bring forward a telecoms security Bill, but obviously he was speaking before the events of the last few weeks. The commitment was to bring forward such a Bill before the Summer Recess, although I think we all appreciate that the legislative timetable has been somewhat disrupted. However, we can see from the debates so far on these amendments that there is a real appetite both in this House and in the other place to have these discussions.
I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, that the decision to allow high-risk vendors to play a limited role in our national connectivity was not an easy one, and it certainly was not rushed through. It stemmed from years of looking at this situation, particularly the telecoms supply chain review conducted by my predecessor in the culture department, but I do think it was the right decision. I will talk about the Statement that I made in the House in January—not in March, as I think she said.
We need faster, better and resilient broadband. That is why having a number of key suppliers at this time is important, so that the infrastructure can be relied upon. It is also right, as I said in the Statement to the House on
A full technical and security analysis was undertaken by GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre. Its view and advice were central to the conclusions of the telecoms supply chain review and the decisions taken off the back of that. Just as a reminder, the UK Government’s approach is obviously to have a new telecoms security regime, which we will discuss in that future Bill, to diversify the supply chain. Although subject to the current crisis, of course, work should begin to start on that. It is very important that we work with our allies around the world on that supply chain to ensure that it is more diverse. However, we will put ourselves on the back foot if we ignore any key suppliers at the moment.
The third condition was the most important: we have to be clear about what makes a vendor high risk and have clear rules and guidance on how we mitigate the many cyber risks to our telecoms networks. We know that cyber risks come from a variety of sources. As I mentioned in that Statement, the most recent cybersecurity risks have come from Russia, and the Russians play no part in our telecoms infrastructure at all.
I said in the House back in January that
“high-risk vendors should be excluded from all safety-related and safety-critical networks in critical national infrastructure; excluded from security-critical network functions; limited to a minority presence in other network functions up to a cap of 35%; and be subjected to tight restrictions, including exclusions from sensitive geographic locations.”
I noted what the noble Baroness said about the answer that I gave to her back in January. I will certainly check the 2013 report again, but I also ask her to check the words that I used about the most sensitive networks. It is clear, as I also said in the Statement, that
“nothing in the review affects this country’s ability to share highly sensitive intelligence data over highly secure networks, both within the UK and with our partners, including the Five Eyes. GCHQ has categorically confirmed that how we construct our 5G and full-fibre public telecoms networks has nothing to do with how we share classified data. The UK’s technical security experts have agreed that the new controls on high-risk vendors are completely consistent with the UK’s security needs.”—[
Given the current crisis, there will be time for a full-scale evaluation of the relationship between the UK and China. I should make it clear that companies such as Huawei could help their cause if they encouraged the Chinese Government to participate fully in any global inquiries, particularly into how the current coronavirus crisis was started.
We also need to be clear about the motivations of some who are objecting to the use of high-risk vendors and want to set dates. As we have heard in this debate but also in the other place, there are many different motivations. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has just set out a very powerful case in relation to human rights, and I hope that will be part of a future debate. There are of course issues of security and intelligence sharing, but there are also those who use this particular concern and debate to advance other geopolitical strategies: namely, the successful conclusion of a UK-US trade agreement. The US has strong feelings about Huawei’s involvement, as we have seen in recent developments. We need to be very clear, and the Government were very clear in January, that we were making a decision about the involvement of high-risk vendors on the basis of what was right for the UK.
I hope that the House will not want to see this amendment in the Bill, but it is clear that we must return to this issue in the Bill. It is right that we hold the Government to account over the diversification strategy so that, as I say, that we are not in this position in any further future telecom supply chain decisions that we might have to make.
My Lords, we have heard some passionate speeches today, but, truth be told, this infrastructure Bill is about much more mundane matters. It is all about rights for operators getting access to install fibre broadband in order to achieve faster broadband rollout, not vendors or their equipment, or indeed high-risk vendors or their equipment, so we on these Benches do not believe that this is the appropriate time or place to discuss these amendments. Quite apart from that, the amendment deals with 5G infrastructure content and leads to our strong view that this debate is not appropriate now but will be when the telecom security Bill comes forward.
I do not say this very often, but I agree with the Government’s view on this, as expressed by the letter of the noble Baroness, Lady Barran. That will be the right peg for the noble Baroness’s amendments, and we should debate the substance then. For that reason, I am not going to engage with the substance of many of the statements made by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, in moving these amendments or indeed those of the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
The background is that, despite earlier speculation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said, after some considerable consideration the Government made their Statement in January 2020 and said that Huawei would continue to play a limited role in delivering the 5G rollout. As she said, that decision took into account analysis and insight from several security bodies and experts in the UK, including GCHQ and the National Cyber Security Centre, and she explained the reasoning very clearly.
On these amendments specifically, there is of course a problem in the operators being given the right to install equipment from high-risk vendors now but ahead of a deadline set in future. Will that fibre have to be removed? What level of use by a telecoms operator and Huawei is sufficient—that its network supports connections from Huawei phones, or that it uses Huawei equipment in its 5G network but not in its fibre installation? What about a company that installs fibre under this legislation but then sells the infrastructure to another company? Why should operators be forced to develop plans to remove high-risk vendors on the advice of the NCSC when that advice is that the risk can be accepted up to a 35% network cap? Do companies now have to submit plans to reach 0% but without any expectation of that actually being implemented?
All this adds up to enormous uncertainty just at the point when we need the maximum rollout of fibre and 5G. That is why the Government are right in their approach—as I said, I do not say that very often—when they say that the issue of wayleads in the Bill should be kept separate from security considerations that will be covered by the telecoms security Bill.
For the information of the House, I do not underestimate the substantive arguments. I considered these matters very carefully myself some 10 years ago. I was a member of Huawei’s international advisory board, but I think that gives me a useful insight into these matters rather than any conflict in the current circumstances. I hope we can debate all these issues at a future date, but not in this Bill.
My Lords, Amendments 9 and 14 were tabled in the House of Commons, leading to a commitment that we will shortly consider a further Bill on telecommunications infrastructure security. Given the urgency with which the department claimed to be dealing with this matter, the retabling of these amendments provides us with an opportunity to see what, if any, progress has been made.
Let me be clear that the Labour Party supports the swift but safe rollout of 5G technology. Fully embracing this technology could fundamentally change how we live and work, creating countless opportunities for new forms of communication, entertainment, and so on.
Operators are very keen to get on with the job of rolling out 5G. As we have heard on a number of occasions, the previous lack of clarity over the role of high-risk vendors led to different companies taking different approaches. Some decided to press ahead, gambling on their mix of equipment, whereas others awaited more detailed guidance. The result is that, much like fixed broadband, we are not where any economy of our size should be. This has been compounded by the extraordinary conspiracy theories over the safety of 5G, which saw hardware targeted in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. I know the Minister strongly criticised these myths at Second Reading and I hope she will do so again today.
As I mentioned previously, we have been promised an additional Bill to deal with the issue of security and high-risk vendors. We welcome this announcement but would like more detail on the timescales involved and the proposed scope of the legislation. As my Commons colleagues pointed out during their consideration of this Bill, concerns around Huawei have arisen because the Government have failed to nurture this sector here in the UK. Our lack of expertise and capacity in this country has left operators reliant on know-how and technology from overseas, including from high-risk vendors.
We have been told that there is a plan in place to reduce the market share enjoyed by these vendors. However, this will not happen overnight, and it certainly cannot happen without a proper, robust strategy, coupled with meaningful investment. I hope, therefore, that the upcoming Bill will not be about only security, as vital as that is. It needs to give us opportunities to debate the bigger picture. If, when the Bill is published, the direction of travel is still not entirely clear, we will need to use that process to shed more light on how the Government intend to get to their end destination.
We want to work with the Government to make 5G happen both quickly and safely, and to improve other forms of digital connectivity. We want to work with operators to ensure users right across the UK can enjoy the very best services. I hope that these amendments, coupled with the others we are discussing this afternoon, can be the start of a productive dialogue about how we make that happen.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the debate on this amendment and thank all noble Lords for their extraordinarily high-quality contributions. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, for her speech introducing the amendment.
As my noble friend Lady Morgan of Cotes explained, this is a matter of huge importance, in relation to both the security and resilience of our telecoms networks and the important and troubling human rights issues that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, covered in relation to the Uighurs. I fear that my comments now will not do justice to this issue, but I would like to put on record my recognition of his work in this area.
On the point that the noble Lord, Lord Livermore, just raised, I can reiterate that the Government continue to condemn those spreading myths about the links between 5G and Covid-19. There is no basis for those assertions.
Turning to the substance of this amendment, it is clearly an issue that the Government consider to be of paramount importance, as this House knows. The Government conducted a comprehensive review into the telecoms supply chain to ensure the security of our networks. The review set out that we will introduce one of the toughest regimes for telecoms security in the world, and I reiterate that high-risk vendors never have been and never will be in the most sensitive parts of our networks.
As my noble friend Lady Morgan said, this decision was taken with enormous care, given its importance. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said recently in the other place in relation to a similar amendment to the Bill, the Government will introduce legislation to establish this new regulatory framework as soon as possible.
This legislation will establish stronger national security powers to allow the Government to impose stringent controls on the presence of high-risk vendor equipment in the UK’s 5G and full-fibre networks. It will be a crucial step forward in implementing the conclusions of the Government’s review into the telecoms supply chain, which was underpinned by careful security analysis by our world-leading cybersecurity experts. It will implement a new and robust security framework that ensures the UK’s telecoms critical national infrastructure remains secure now and in the future, which I know is what is behind the amendment of the noble Baroness. Officials are working to develop that legislation as quickly as possible.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for agreeing with the Government that that piece of legislation will be the right opportunity to debate telecom security and high-risk vendors in detail. I hope that this gives your Lordships some reassurance that the Government remain absolutely committed to working with Parliament to ensure the security of our networks.
I understand that the intention of Amendment 9 is to impose a timetable for an effective ban on the use of equipment from high-risk vendors. However, our reflection is that, in practice, this amendment would not necessarily result in the removal of high-risk vendors from the network. Rather than incentivising operators to remove high-risk vendor equipment from their networks, operators could simply not make use of the powers in this Bill, thereby creating a barrier to many families living in blocks of flats who cannot access the benefits unlocked by new broadband services while having no practical impact on the presence of high-risk vendors in the UK’s telecom networks. That is clearly not something, listening to your Lordships today, that this House would like to see happen.
This Bill, in terms of its practical operation, is about access for fixed-line providers and not 5G services. Therefore, the impact of this amendment would not only be more limited in its practical implications than I believe the noble Baroness intends but could slow down the rollout of full-fibre networks and prevent the UK economy seeing the benefits that nationwide access to faster broadband networks could bring.
Amendment 14 is aimed at obliging telecoms operators who exercise Part 4A code rights to set out publicly plans to remove high-risk vendors from their networks to the satisfaction of a regulator. The Government have consistently made it clear that the security of our telecoms infrastructure is paramount. I know that the House shares this view. The amendment touches on details which will need clarification when we come to the telecoms security Bill, such as details around the information that plans should contain any sanctions and what would constitute satisfaction to a designated regulator. That is work to be done in the telecoms security Bill.
We have made evidence-based decisions in relation to high-risk vendors based on the world-class expertise of the National Cyber Security Centre. It has always been the Government’s position that operators should pay due regard to the NCSC’s advice on reducing their Huawei equipment to the recommended level as quickly as practicable. However, the Bill is neither the right place to put an obligation on operators to set out detailed plans, nor to designate an appropriate regulator to assess those plans. As I have made clear, the Government are committed to implementing a framework for telecoms security that is right for the UK’s specific security needs and takes into account the advice we have received from our cybersecurity experts.
This is an important debate which needs full consideration by Members in both Houses and the forthcoming legislation to implement the new telecoms security framework is the right vehicle to do that. The Government are committed to ensuring full consideration by Members in both Houses. On a personal note, I find it a real privilege to take part in a Committee with Members who have such expertise in the technology, security and human rights aspects. I know that my colleagues in the department will be keen to work with noble Lords as we progress with the security Bill and our ambitions to achieve faster broadband rollout. With that, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I shall make a brief comment and ask a question in response to what the noble Baroness has just said. She and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, both talked about assessments of telecoms and infrastructure security that have been made historically. Does she accept that relations with China are dynamic and appear to be particularly so at the moment, in dealing with the Covid epidemic and its fallout, which could have a significant bearing on future relations, not only with us but with the West. Are the Government cognisant of that?
Because I have not been following these things very closely, my question is this. Have the Government given a categorical undertaking to introduce a telecoms security Bill before the summer?
I think the noble Lord knows that the Government are absolutely cognisant of how international relations with multiple partners, including China, evolve. The current situation is obviously unprecedented. Forgive me, but I must ask the noble Lord to repeat his second question.
I apologise to the noble Lord. We have said that we will introduce the Bill as soon as possible, but the Covid situation has caused some disruption to the parliamentary timetable. The commitment to do it as quickly as possible stands, however.
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for the way she has responded to the debate, particularly her remarks about how important this question is. What she just said to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is particularly interesting. If there has been slippage in the legislative timetable, and I recognise the reasons for it, surely that makes it even more important that this paving Bill—that is what this is, effectively—is the right place to address these questions. If it is not, they will go off into the future and we know that the future can be the long grass.
It is the age-old argument about the right place and the right time but, given the Minister’s welcome remarks about the importance of this issue, may I ask her to do one thing between now and Report? I would be very grateful if she could assure the Committee that she will liaise with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, at the Foreign Office and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, at the Home Office about our obligations, referred to in my remarks, under Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. These require any company with a turnover of more than £36 million to publish details of what steps they are taking to prevent modern slavery. Perhaps in that period there could also be a meeting with me, my noble friend Lady Falkner and the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, who was appointed by the Government. He could come in and talk further to the Minister about our obligations and why we really need to act now, rather than push the matter off into the future.
I shall answer that in two ways, if I may. Of course, I would be delighted to meet the noble Lord in conjunction with my noble friends Lord Ahmad and Lady Williams, and with the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, if she wishes to join. We can pick that up after the Committee. I assure the Committee that there is no loss of will or momentum on the Government’s side about the telecoms security Bill. Purely practical issues prevent me giving a firm date for its introduction.
My Lords, I start by thanking the Minister for the manner in which she has dealt with this Bill. I will take up that offer of further conversations on it. In the meantime, I shall briefly address some of the issues raised by noble Lords.
I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for his support. Yes, these amendments are very close to those tabled in the House of Commons. They are certainly in scope of the Bill, and he will be reassured to know that Chi Onwurah supported them in the House of Commons in February and March, and in fact moved one of them.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, mentioned the new US-Australia trade war when he meant, I think, the China-Australia trade war. I say that just for the Hansard record. I think that is what he meant. I will leave it at that.
I was enormously grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his speech. He has great knowledge of human rights around the world. He is right to say that we have collaborated over a very long period on the situation of the Chinese Uighurs. It saddens me that that seems to have dropped off the agenda completely in the light of the Covid story. From what I read on the internet, those people have higher rates of infection and they were infected in their internment camps and so on. It is something we must continue to watch.
I come specifically to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes. I accept that the Bill is a less than ideal vehicle for the passage of these amendments, but I reiterate that they are not wrecking amendments of any sort. They are to strengthen the Government’s hand and to give predictability to providers about the necessary risks that face them as we go forward. She said that the manifesto target was part of the levelling-up agenda to improve connectivity, but I do not believe that United Kingdom citizens who have their personal details stolen or their financial details sold on the dark web and suffer losses would be grateful to the Government for having rolled out 5G perhaps 24 months sooner than if they had used an alternative provider. She and the Government may find themselves on the defensive when such things happen.
The noble Baroness also said that she believes that the decision is right in its assessment of risk, but future risk is always best approached tentatively, after careful evaluation. The most important thing is that the best way to evaluate risks is to have conversations with others who have been victims of the malpractice, particularly when the others are your trusted friends.
That brings me to the remark I find almost patronising on her part, when she warned us that those supporting the Bill in the House of Commons were perhaps part of an agenda to do a trade deal with the US—in other words, she was implying that those of us supporting the Bill here, particularly me, are being naive in our support for the discussions that took place in the Commons. I have pointed out that I do not think that one could accuse Mr Jeremy Corbyn, who added his signature to the Bill, of being desperately keen to do a trade deal with the US, or of being one of the usual suspects in terms of the European Union research group. I can reassure her that not only have I served on the National Security Council, but I first went to China 42 years ago, and I know it fairly well. So I am not walking into this with my eyes closed.
Let me also say, as I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on the screen and having been reminded of his Huawei connection, that perhaps I needed to have declared that I serve as a vice president of the APPG on China, along with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, who is the vice chairman, if I recall correctly. So I have been engaged in Parliament in a very positive way with China as well.
It is almost trivialising to suggest that the motivation of lawmakers trying to improve legislation in the House of Lords is somehow guided by groupthink, or by a desire to fall into a certain line. All lawmakers across the House are motivated by the desire to do the best by the country, and there is nothing more important when trying to do the best by a country than caring for its national security.
I come to the noble Lord, Lord Livermore, and his questioning of the telecoms security Bill that the Minister has reassured the House will come to us shortly. In response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, Mr Oliver Dowden gave repeated reassurances in the House, but only after some considerable pressure, that the Bill would be brought back before the summer.
I would actually be entirely content to deal with the context of the telecoms security Bill only when the House returns in full form, so that we can have the appropriate scrutiny of the Bill that we need in the proper manner. That Bill is of such critical importance to our national security that this virtual proceeding, and allowing Bills to go through on the basis of their being possibly uncontroversial, simply will not do. I say to the Minister that I would rather the Bill came back somewhat later than when the House is not ready to receive it in full, in the normal way.
Let me conclude by thanking the Minister for her very positive tone. I accept that she is eager to engage with those of us who have concerns and reservations, and I will go away and read her comments on these amendments more carefully, and will then consider my response and whether I will bring the amendments back on Report or not. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
My Lords, I think this might be a convenient moment to take a short break, so I propose that we now adjourn until 5.45 pm.
Virtual proceeding suspended.
My Lords, the Virtual Committee will now resume. We come to Amendment 10. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. It would be helpful if anyone intending to say “Not content” if the Question is put made that clear in the debate. It takes unanimity to amend the Bill in this Committee, which cannot divide.