James Sunderland backs the Telecommunications (Security) Bill which will improve telecoms security, remove high-risk vendors from the UK telecoms network and open up the network for other 5G providers.
It is a great pleasure to follow my eminent right hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart)—if only I were as good.
As the final Back-Bench speaker this afternoon, it is incumbent on me to be supportive of the Government, which of course I am, and this excellent Bill. We are where we are today for two reasons. First, it shows that the Government do listen to Back Benchers. Secondly, the Bill is a pretty good bit of work and it ticks the box, as indeed it should. As defence and national security become ever more virtual and online, it has never been more important to secure our lines of communication, both domestically and internationally, with our allies. I urge all Members to consider the notion of strategic independence, which we have spoken a lot about during the covid crisis. As we go forward, it is really important that we aspire to be able to operate autonomously as a global nation alongside our allies.
I believe that the Bill is important for three reasons. First, it will allow for better security both domestically and internationally. It kicks out the high-risk vendors from our network—what’s not to like? Secondly, it placates our allies. New Zealand, Australia, the USA, Canada and others were quite noisy when Huawei was originally admitted to our network, so let us hope that this will placate them, cement that relationship and, perhaps in time, even enable us to admit Japan and other close allies. Thirdly, it opens the door for other 5G providers to come in, which is a good thing, and I support the UK’s diversification strategy.
Having sat on the Committee for this excellent Bill, it is a pleasure to see it back here on Report. The Bill takes forward the Government’s commitment to the UK telecoms supply chain review, introduces a new security framework, amends the Communications Act 2003, introduces new security duties, brings new powers to the Secretary of State and strengthens Ofcom’s regulatory powers, allowing it to enforce the new framework. That is all very positive. It also introduces new national security powers for the Government to impose, monitor and enforce controls. Again, that is a positive step.
I am pretty happy with the Bill as it stands, but in the interests of objectivity, I will talk to a number of the new clauses and amendments. On new clause 1, the Government are aware that the Bill gives Ofcom significant new responsibilities, and it will need to increase its resources and skills to meet those new demands. Ofcom’s budget is approved by its independent board, and the Minister has today confirmed that the budget limit set by the Government will be adjusted to allow Ofcom to carry out new functions effectively. Ofcom is already engaged in this space—we are already proactively looking over the horizon and scanning for future threats—so I am happy that the Government have got this about right.
New clause 2 would ensure that the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament is provided with information relating to a designated vendor direction. I am sympathetic to this, but the Government know what they are doing. As the Minister said, the ISC’s primary focus is to oversee the work of the security and intelligence agencies. Its remit is clearly defined in the Justice and Security Act 2013, so the Bill is not the appropriate place to achieve an overall enhanced role for the ISC.
I am sorry to have to reiterate this point. There are other ways in which our concerns could be addressed, such as by adjusting our memorandum of understanding, rather than putting it on the face of the Bill, so I am with my hon. Friend as far as that is concerned. However, it is very clearly within our remit to oversee not only the agencies but those parts of other Departments where highly classified information is concerned. That is just a matter of fact—it is in the agreement between us and the Prime Minister.
I empathise with my right hon. Friend’s view, and I agree that he has a point. My position is the same as the Government’s: I do not think that this Bill is necessarily the vehicle through which we should look at the future of how the ISC operates. I am a keen follower of the ISC and its output. Its work is eminent, and my right hon. Friend’s point is well made.
Let me cement that point but also perhaps offer an olive branch to the Minister, if I might be so bold. If the Minister, when he sums up, were to make a firm and binding commitment that he, for example, and others will appear before the ISC at our request to be scrutinised on these and other matters, that might go some way—not the whole way, but some way—to assuaging doubts and fears.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. Again, I empathise with the point. I will happily leave it to the Minister to make his view known in his summing-up later.
New clause 3 requires the Secretary of State to report on the impact of the Government’s diversification strategy on the security telecommunications network and services, which of course they will do, so I agree that the Government do not need to be dragged back to the Dispatch Box on this. Again, I am with the Government on new clause 3. I can see the merits of amendment 1 on consulting with the devolved nations, which, of course, again, the Government will do. National security, as we know, is a reserved matter under the devolution settlements in force, so, again, I am happy that the Government have got this right.
On amendments 2 and 3, the Government have every intention of seeking the advice of the UK security and intelligence services, in particular the National Cyber Security Centre, so again, while the amendments have merit, I am completely with the Government on this.
In conclusion, my sense is that the new clauses and amendments that we have discussed today do have merit, and I note that the Minister has noted them. Again, we discussed these issues at length in Committee. It is a good Bill and I will be voting it through this evening.