Telecommunications (Security) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:20 pm on 29 June 2021.

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Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Conservative 4:20, 29 June 2021

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Balfe and I declare my technology interests as set out in the register.

I have four quick points for this stage of the debate. First, on diversification, it is clear that if there is a monopoly, duopoly or triopoly, it does not matter what the market is, the results are highly likely to be suboptimal, and that is what we see in our modern telecoms situation. Can my noble friend the Minister update the House on what is happening on the national telecoms lab and what is at the core of its mission? To build on the words of the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, I completely agree on the need for a telecoms sandbox and to build on the firms that would go through it. A scale box to follow on from that would seem an excellent idea for the United Kingdom. As he said, it has worked tremendously successfully in fintech, led by the Financial Conduct Authority, and could have a significantly positive impact on our telecoms business.

As many noble Lords have commented, cyber is the future, and that future is now—whether it comes from fraud by individuals or from state actors, it will become an increasingly invasive part of everything that we do. Does the Minister believe that we are doing everything that we can to leverage the cyber capabilities we have in this country, not just those excellent public resources at GCHQ and the NCSC but across the private sector? On that note, can she update the House on when the review of the Computer Misuse Act may be coming through and what positive impact it will have for all the people who work to try and keep us safe in cyber- space?

Other noble Lords have mentioned the levelling-up agenda, and mobile telephony is certainly not just a part but a critical part of that. If one does not have that connectivity or the skills to operate in that world, what hope is there of securing the employment, lives and social connections that everyone should be entitled to have a right to aspire to and achieve? I give one small specific example in terms of telecoms security. BT is due imminently to shut down the copper network, which is what we all consider to be landlines. Is my noble friend the Minister assured that everything is being done to protect all, not least vulnerable, citizens, particularly those currently at the sharp end of digital exclusion? What is being put in place to ensure that when that copper network is switched off—“retired” is the term being used—those citizens are not left at the extraordinary sharp end of exclusion? Imagine, for example, in the area of security, if they find themselves in need of a 999 service and need broadband to have a new connection, or they do not have the digital skills. What will occur if that is the case?

Finally, building on what my noble friend Lord Young talked about on the justiciability of decisions, does the Minister agree that if the Secretary of State had alongside him the NSC, that could only be positive in terms of the determinations that would be likely to come out of those deliberations?

Telecoms matter massively, as do all new technologies that we have in our hands. The crucial thing is that there are threats that we can know about, Rumsfeldians that we could go into and much that we cannot know about the future. But the most important thing that we can know is that the future is in our hands—all our hands.