Amendment 10

Telecommunications (Security) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 19 October 2021.

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Lord Coaker:

Moved by Lord Coaker

10: After Clause 23, insert the following new Clause—“Long-term strategy (1) Within six months of this Act being passed, the Secretary of State must publish a long-term strategy on telecommunications security and resilience.(2) The strategy must include but is not limited to—(a) the objectives of the United Kingdom in working with NATO, Five Eyes partners, and other allies, on research and development, adoption and deployment, standards, and overall strategy;(b) how the strategy will provide security and resilience in the long term;(c) how this Act supports strategic objectives in the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy;(d) how this Act will complement the powers in the National Security and Investment Act 2021 in the long term and whether a review is needed;(e) whether, for the purposes of telecommunications security, an international advisory body should be set up to help coordinate, influence and develop guidance and standards;(f) how the United Kingdom, in collaboration with its allies, will monitor, horizon-scan for, and respond to, current and emerging threats;(g) whether the United Kingdom security infrastructure is adequately resourced to respond to threats against its telecommunications network;(h) how to secure the adequacy of OFCOM’s resourcing in fulfilling its functions provided in this Act.(3) The strategy must be laid before Parliament.”

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

In moving Amendment 10 I will also speak to Amendment 11 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Blencathra and Lord Fox, to which I have also put my name.

Amendment 10 seeks to future-proof the Bill. It strengthens the bonds with our international partners, ensures horizon-scanning and provides security and resilience in the long term. It again pushes the Government on a long-term strategy for the security and resilience of our telecoms network. What plans do the Government have for that?

I think all of us in this House understand that this is a fast-changing world, and many of us would not have predicted just a few years ago some of the challenges and threats we face now. Flexibility and adaptability are crucial, and a strategy needs to be put together alongside that. Indeed, the Government themselves have accepted that in their response to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee document, 5G Market Diversification and Wider Lessons for Critical and Emerging Technologies. Indeed, the Government’s response says that there is a need for strategies and for the Government to look to future threats. Amendment 10 is an attempt to understand how all the Government’s various strategies—I did not count them, but they are putting forward many—will be put together to ensure that we have one overarching strategy dealing with the threats this country faces with respect to security and telecommunications, and in a way that is understandable and meets the challenges we may face in the future. As I say, the purpose of this amendment is to push the Government again on what their strategy is.

Amendment 11 is an incredibly important amendment. Leaving aside the various intellectual arguments, the policy documents that can be quoted, the evidence that can be cited and so on, the ordinary member of the public, who often gets left out of debates such as this, would say something like the following. The Five Eyes, which includes Australia and New Zealand, is one of our most important intelligence communities. Indeed, we have just signed the AUKUS deal, which does not involve all of the Five Eyes but is nevertheless important. Therefore, it is really important that within the Five Eyes there is a commonality of purpose, of understanding and of action.

If we in this country, for example, decided that X technology company was a danger to our national security, I think the ordinary person on the street, man or woman, even a child, would say, “Perhaps it might be a danger to our intelligence network, our telecommunications network, our security system”. It absolutely beggars belief that the Government are resisting an amendment which says that if one of the Five Eyes thinks that there is a problem, we should do something about it. The amendment does not even compel the Government; it merely asks them to review the situation I may have got this wrong, since I have not been in government for a while, but I am positive that if something came across the Minister’s desk, although he might not have it as an amendment in the Bill, he would review it. I fail to understand why the Government would resist an amendment that seeks to say exactly what I have said.

As I said in my previous remarks about evidence, the Government’s own document, their own recently published Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, agrees with me. It will be interesting to see how the Minister—and I am sure other noble Lords will come forward with their own views—will ensure the future security of the UK telecoms network. If noble Lords want to check that I am not making it up, page 75 says:

“To ensure the future security of the UK telecoms network as the basis for secure and safe CNI. Under the provisions of the Telecommunications (Security) Bill”— it quotes the Bill—

“supported by the 5G supply chain diversification strategy, we will: manage and mitigate risks from high-risk vendors; introduce a new, robust security framework for telecoms to ensure our networks are secure and resilient to future challenges;”— long-term strategy—

“and work with partners, including the Five Eyes, to create a more diverse and competitive supply base for telecoms networks.”

I could not put it better than the Government. As spokesperson for Her Majesty’s Opposition, I fundamentally agree with the Government in that paragraph. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, may also point out, the amendment says exactly the same, apart from adding a review, which should happen anyway.

I will be supporting Amendment 11, and I am interested in why the Government would seek to resist something that is included within their own document.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 6:30, 19 October 2021

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and to endorse everything he has just said about Amendments 10 and 11.

In speaking to Amendment 11, about which I hope to seek the opinion of the House if there is not a satisfactory reply to the debate, although I hope there will be, I should say that I moved a similar amendment in Committee on 13 July. As in Committee, the amendment enjoys all-party support from across the House; I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, but also to the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Fox, for their support. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has spelled out that it would insert a new clause requiring the Government to review any telecommunications company based in foreign countries which have been banned in a Five Eyes country. It is quite straightforward. This amendment would strengthen international action and bolster UK resilience and security.

If such a provision had previously existed in statute, it might have saved this country a great deal of money over the expensive 5G Huawei debacle, which we have known was a security risk since 2013. If the House approves this amendment today, it will send a clear signal that the Bill must be further strengthened to deal with companies that have been banned in other jurisdictions, the need to dig deeper into ownership and investment of companies and the desirability of acting in concert with our Five Eyes allies. Significantly—I suppose this is another development, as the noble Lord just referred to, since Committee—there has been the, in my view, very welcome decision to create AUKUS, the security pact in the Asia-Pacific which, in addition to giving Australia greater defence capacity, also covers AI and other technologies.

At Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, urged us to work

“in close partnership with our Five Eyes allies”.—[Official Report,29/6/21; col. 727.]

She was right. The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, asked us to guard against “another costly security debacle”. She was right. My noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup told us that we

“need to develop an approach … that constantly monitors and rebalances this equation in the context of our complex and dynamic world.”—[Official Report, 29/6/21; col. 715.]

He was right, and the amendments seek to do just that.

In Committee, I detailed many of the companies that have now been proscribed and banned in the United States of America. I would be grateful to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson—I asked this question in Committee, he will recall—if we have looked at those companies, and what action we are now taking against those that are on the list that President Biden has published. Specifically, I refer to one example, Hikvision. This is what the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons said in its unanimous report. The committee recommended

“that the Government prohibits organisations and individuals in the UK from doing business with any companies known to be associated with the Xinjiang atrocities through the sanctions regime. The Government should prohibit UK firms and public sector bodies from conducting business with, investing in, or entering into partnerships with such Chinese firms”.

I raised that in Committee. Have we acted in concert with principal Five Eyes allies in prohibiting Hikvision or not?

The failure to co-ordinate with allies leads to costs and uncertainty for business and endangers our national interest. The Government’s own estimate, based on the Huawei decision, is that it cost the Exchequer some £2 billion, excluding the broader economic cost of a delayed rollout of the 5G network caused by having to change horses. Earlier collective action could have prevented the later expensive U-turns.

Amendment 11 seeks to better protect our national interest in concert with our allies in the free world. I commend the amendment to the House.

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

My Lords, I am used to hearing powerful speeches from my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool, but what a delight it was to hear also the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. He spelled it out exactly: it beggars belief. I cannot believe that my noble friend, a wise and intelligent Minister, will reject this amendment.

I support Amendment 11, which does not detract from the Bill in any way; it does not sabotage the Bill or pull the guts out of it, it merely adds to our arsenal. All it asks the Government to do, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out, is to review the security arrangements with a telecoms provider if one of our vital, strategic Five Eyes partners bans its equipment. We are not calling for a similar immediate ban, or an eventual ban, we are just saying let us review it and come to a conclusion.

Why do I want this added? My motivation is quite simple: I believe this will be another small warning shot to China that we will start to stand up to its aggression. I share the view of the new head of MI5, Mr Ken McCallum, that Russia is an irritation but China is a threat to world peace and our whole western way of life. Yes, Russia—or Putin, more accurately—is nasty and will happily kill opponents, as we saw in Salisbury, and attempt to interfere in elections, but Russia is not capable and is afraid of the consequences of waging a world war.

China, I believe, does not share that view. It is building that massive economic and military capacity to dominate the whole world. It will overtake the USA in military capability in the next few years and has already overtaken all western powers in its attitude to using force. It is not that China wants war: it believes that war will not be necessary, since it will win when we surrender without firing a shot. If it attacks Taiwan, will the USA and the UK rush to support it? I hope so, but I do not hold my breath. China believes we do not have the moral guts to do as we did with plucky little Belgium before the First World War or Poland before the second, and guarantee their security.

To return to this amendment, it is a small symbol of our intention to begin our moral fightback—to say that we will not be bullied by China, either in our universities and supply chains or in the freedom of the seas. China has been achieving world domination by small incremental steps: making the WHO its puppet; infiltrating universities; subtly taking over international organisations; robbing African countries of all their minerals as payback for loans; and stealing every bit of technology that it can. It is, therefore, by incremental steps, such as this little amendment, that we will show that we will not be cowed—that we will resist and not become China’s slaves.

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

My Lords, there are many merits to the plans, set out by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in Amendment 10, for the Secretary of State to publish a long-term strategy on telecommunications security and resilience. However, in the interests of time, I will quickly shift my focus to Amendment 11 and disappoint the House by saying that my words will be brief. The House has heard very strong speeches, not just from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, but from the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Blencathra, and it is a pleasure to see my name alongside theirs on this amendment.

The point has been made three times: this is a very small ask of the Government. Referring back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, working closely with our Five Eyes partners was identified as the whole point—certainly a key objective—in the integrated review. It is one of the central pillars of our security planning. So we are not asking for something outrageous. There is a strong theme of working with our Five Eyes allies across the field of security. The UK has to work with other countries to be effective—and if not with these countries then which?

The UK’s telecoms networks face the same challenges as those of our key allies, and this amendment simply ensures that when it comes to this most crucial component of security—increasingly, communications are at the heart of all our security decisions, whether we are finding things out, transmitting information or looking at what others are doing—we take into consideration what those allies are doing. If we were not doing this, there would be a strong danger of putting a wedge between us and them. Indeed, we began to see that happening with the United States, before this Government decided to change their mind over the Huawei decision—for which some noble Lords present should take a lot of credit.

The question we have to ask ourselves, therefore—it is very difficult to understand the answers, so I look forward to the Minister’s reply—is why the Government are not adopting this amendment. The Minister may take the stance that it is not necessary. If so, it is not a problem and could be included. More worryingly, does the Minister know that this is perhaps the thin end of a wedge, and that there is a lot more technology already installed in our infrastructure across the country that the Government would have to start to remove? If there is, it would be expensive but important to do. Or perhaps the reason is the worst of all excuses: that the Government did not think of it and so are resisting suggestions from others, which is the worst sort of institutional resistance, of a kind that we see all the time.

We on these Benches, therefore, support this amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and if he sees fit to lead us through that virtual Lobby, we will be virtually beside him.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, I add a brief word of support for all the sentiments expressed so far in this debate, and for the excellent way in which they have been presented. I very much look forward to hearing my noble friend’s reply as to the problem that the Government have in accepting what seems to be their own wording into this Bill, thereby reinforcing this country’s stance against some of the most egregious regimes in the world and staying as close as we can to our Five Eyes allies.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 6:45, 19 October 2021

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Coaker, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Fox, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra, for tabling these amendments, which relate to our national security strategy and engagement with our Five Eyes partners.

The Government’s first and overriding priority is to protect and promote the interests of the British people through our actions at home and overseas. That is a message central to our integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, and one that Ministers in the other place have repeated during the passage of this Bill. What I have heard very clearly in this short but powerful debate is that, regardless of party or affiliation, noble Lords across the House agree that we must do what we can to protect our national security interests.

That is precisely why we have introduced this Bill. It is why we have published the integrated review and why we have such close working relationships with our allies—not only in the Five Eyes but also among our European neighbours and beyond. So I welcome the spirit in which Amendments 10 and 11 have been put forward. I say that so that noble Lords will know that we share their instincts and ambitions in this crucial area, even though we cannot support these amendments today, as I will explain.

I start by addressing Amendment 10, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. This amendment would require the Government to publish a long-term telecoms security and resilience strategy, covering various topics, within six months of the Bill’s Royal Assent. It would require this strategy to be laid before Parliament. This amendment is similar to the one tabled by the noble Lord in Committee, except that here he has made additional reference to reporting on Ofcom resources.

As I have said, the Government take their responsibility to protect the British public very seriously. We welcome and share the noble Lord’s desire to ensure that this country is prepared to overcome future challenges to the security of our telecommunications. However, we have—as the noble Lord noted—already published and are implementing a number of strategies that will ensure that our national security in general, and the security of our telecoms networks and services in particular, are safeguarded.

I mentioned the integrated review. That overarching review sets out our commitment to security and resilience, so that that the British people are protected against threats. This starts at home, by defending our people, territory, critical national infrastructure, democratic institutions and way of life, and by reducing our vulnerability to the threat from other states, terrorism and serious and organised crime.

The noble Lord asked where the hierarchy lies. While the integrated review sets out our overall approach across government, the UK telecoms supply chain review guides our work on security and resilience in the telecoms sector specifically. The Government continue to implement the recommendations of the UK Telecoms Supply Chain Review Report, published in 2019. Alongside that, we continue our crucial work on supply chain resilience via implementation of the 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy, published last year, which we have debated during the passage of this Bill.

More broadly, the Government’s approach to telecoms security is informed by other cross-government priorities. In March we announced our intention to develop a comprehensive national cyber strategy as part of the integrated review. The cyber strategy will set out the UK’s approach to deterring our adversaries and ensuring that the technologies of the future are safe and secure. Furthermore, the Government intend to engage more widely with partners on the details of that strategy and publish it later this year, ensuring that our plans are aligned with funding decisions in the forthcoming spending review.

As set out in Committee, the Government are also in the process of developing a national resilience strategy that will provide a single, coherent approach to the way the UK approaches national resilience. That will be published in early 2022 and will provide a foundation on which to build a clear and co-ordinated approach to the whole range of resilience challenges.

Through his proposed Amendment 10 I think the noble Lord is seeking reassurance that the UK is working with our international partners to achieve shared objectives, and I am very happy to set out how we are doing that. The Government engage regularly with partner countries, including those mentioned in the noble Lord’s amendment: NATO and the Five Eyes allies. We are committed to a strong and deep relationship with our allies. We have held detailed and productive talks with partner Governments throughout the development of the Bill and will continue to do so as and when it is passed.

Similarly, the Government recognise that co-operation on international standards is vital to our joint efforts as we look to the future. We are working closely with the industry, the National Cyber Security Centre, Ofcom and a wide range of international partners to increase the UK’s influence and presence at major standards development organisations, such as ETSI and 3GPP.

Through his amendment the noble Lord is also, I think, seeking reassurance about the adequacy of Ofcom’s funding for its security arrangements. As the telecoms regulator, Ofcom will have a vital role to play in the compliance and enforcement arrangements for the new security framework. We are working with Ofcom to ensure that it has the required resources to meet its new responsibilities. Ofcom’s budget for telecoms security this financial year has been increased by £4.6 million to reflect that enhanced security role.

As I have explained, we will continue to ensure that our approach to telecoms security is kept up to date in response to the changes in threats and technology. For those reasons, I do not believe that Amendment 10 is necessary, and I hope that, when we come to it, the noble Lord will be content to withdraw it and to see that we are indeed working with our allies on this important area, as he rightly asked.

Amendment 11, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Fox and Lord Coaker, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra, seeks to ensure that we take account of the actions of our Five Eyes partners. It would require the Secretary of State to review decisions taken by Five Eyes partners to ban telecoms vendors on security grounds. In particular, it would require the Secretary of State to review the UK’s security arrangements with that vendor and to consider whether to issue a designated vendor direction or to take similar action in the UK.

We certainly agree that the UK Government should engage with international partners, including our important allies in the Five Eyes alliance. That is what we have been doing throughout the drafting of the Bill and what we will continue to do once it has passed. Our Five Eyes relationship is robust, and the UK is committed to a close and enduring partnership. The Five Eyes intelligence and security agencies maintain very close co-operation, including regular and routine dialogue between the NCSC and its international partners. This dialogue includes the sharing of our respective technical expertise on the security of telecoms networks and the question of managing the risks from high-risk vendors. There are mechanisms already in place for the NCSC to share this and wider information with DCMS.

We also agree with noble Lords that the Government should consider the policies of our Five Eyes partners when developing our own security policies, and we do that. However, although we take the position of our Five Eyes partners into consideration, our international interests are not limited to the Five Eyes. That is why the approach we have taken in the Bill provides the flexibility for the Secretary of State to take into consideration a variety of relevant information, which includes but is not limited to assessments of our international partners’ policies. I reassure noble Lords that the Bill enables the Secretary of State to consider a decision by a Five Eyes partner—or, indeed, by any other international partner—to ban a vendor on security grounds.

Clause 16 of the Bill sets out a non-exhaustive list of factors the Secretary of State might take into account when she is considering issuing a designation notice. This illustrates the kinds of factors that the Government will proactively be considering on an ongoing basis as part of our work. The Government’s approach to national security needs to remain flexible and adaptable to future challenges. Every country’s approach to national security will be different; security measures taken in one particular country might not always be appropriate in another, for example due to differences in the composition of their telecoms networks or services.

The Government’s consideration of specific countries’ policies when developing their own national security policy should not therefore be mandated or set out in such a restrictive way in primary legislation.

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I thank the Minister, and perhaps I am pre-empting what he is about to say, but it seems that, although he has clearly said the answer that I predicted—“not necessary”—the fact that this amendment was brought shows that it is not clear from this legislation that that is what the Minister will be doing. At the very least, whether this gets voted through or not, there is a conversation to be had when this comes back on Report that takes into consideration whether it just limits itself to Five Eyes or goes broader. Will the Minister undertake to think about those things as well, and perhaps comment on that?

A noble Lord:

The noble Lord means Third Reading.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Yes, we are of course on Report; it has been a while since we were in Committee. Yes, the noble Lord is right: we do not feel that this amendment is necessary. I hope that I am setting out how the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to do what I think noble Lords want to do, not least, as I was just explaining, in Clause 16 and the non-exhaustive list of factors referred to there. Our objection is to setting out the Five Eyes partnership specifically and restrictively when there may be other countries and allies we speak to where she will also rightly want to take that into account. It is important that the Government have the freedom to determine their own national security policies so that they remain flexible and can respond rapidly to changing threats and challenges to our telecoms networks. The Government also need to be able to determine exactly how and when they engage with their Five Eyes partners and consider their actions when developing our policies.

Noble Lords are absolutely right to speak of the importance of the Five Eyes alliance; for more than 60 years it has been doing extremely valuable work for the people of this country and, indeed, for the other partner nations in it. But the Five Eyes alliance was not created through legislation and its importance has not relied on it being set out in statute either. In fact, it would be highly unusual to refer to such an alliance in legislation and we feel that this Bill is not the right place to create such an important national security precedent. That is why we are resisting it.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, suggested that if we had had such a provision it might have saved some time and effort in the past, in particular with reference to Huawei. The Government have always considered Huawei to pose a relatively high risk to the UK’s telecoms networks compared with other vendors. There has been a risk mitigation strategy in place since Huawei first began to supply equipment to the UK’s public telecoms providers. As he knows, in July last year, following advice from the NCSC, the National Security Council considered the impact of US sanctions in relation to Huawei and considered that further action was needed in relation to Huawei as the new US restrictions made oversight of Huawei products significantly more challenging and potentially impossible. That is an illustration of how the UK already regularly reviews security advice and requirements in response to international considerations and what other Governments are doing.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also asked about Hikvision. The UK is aware of reporting that has suggested links between Hikvision and human rights violations in Xinjiang. As he knows, the Government have spoken up at international organisations to condemn the ongoing situation in Xinjiang. In January, my right honourable friend the former Foreign Secretary announced a number of measures to help ensure that UK businesses and the public sector are not complicit in human rights violations or abuses there. Decisions on excluding suppliers would be made on a case-by-case basis by central government contracting authorities when undertaking procurements in line with the relevant regulations.

My noble friend Lord Blencathra raised China more broadly, and indeed the UK wants a mature, positive relationship with China based on mutual respect and trust. There is considerable scope for constructive engagement and co-operation but, as we strive for that positive relationship, we will not sacrifice either our values or our security. China is now a leading member of the world community; its size, economic power and global influence make it a vital partner in tackling the biggest global challenges, but it has always been the case that where we have concerns, we raise them, and where we need to intervene, we will.

In conclusion, I want to return to where I started these remarks. The Government view national security as their number one priority, as any responsible Government would. This debate has highlighted that there is broad agreement on the need for robust, strategic consideration of those issues. So, although I am afraid that we cannot accept the amendments in this group, I warmly welcome the intent behind them. I hope that I have reassured noble Lords sufficiently that we understand their concerns, and that they will be content not to press these amendments.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 7:00, 19 October 2021

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Speaking first to Amendment 10, the Minister gave some reassurance to the House in respect of a strategy. He and I mentioned numerous strategies and I think all of us hope that somewhere along the line they are co-ordinated; otherwise, we will end up with a strategy to deal with a strategy, which is not a good place for anyone to be. I shall leave the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to deal with Amendment 11. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 10.

Amendment 10 withdrawn.