All 1 Bob Seely contributions to the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act 2021

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Tue 10th Mar 2020
Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill
Commons Chamber

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Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill Debate

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Department: Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill

Bob Seely Excerpts
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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I have to say that I do not remember reading the Rifkind report, which suggests that it did not make a significant impression, as it was my job to look at the management of the network. The hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative Benches—there are many of them—are trying to accuse the last Labour Government of neglecting in some way our telecoms infrastructure, but it is totally clear that, over the 10 years of the last Labour Government, we rolled out broadband infrastructure to 50% of this country. If that is neglect, we would like to see a little bit more neglect like that at the moment.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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I wish to make some progress, but I will be happy to give way in a while.

What the Prime Minister promised was full fibre by 2025. Then he downgraded that pledge to universal “gigabit-capable” broadband, and then, in the Queen’s Speech, the pledge was watered down further to “accelerating the roll-out” of gigabit-capable broadband. I am pleased that, in this Bill, the Government appear to be acknowledging the limitations of a market free-for-all and now propose a number of minor measures to ease infrastructure build-out by giving operators more power to access apartment blocks when requested by tenants.

This is a mediocre Bill. On Second Reading, the Minister spoke of

“taking the first hammer blow to the barriers preventing the deployment of gigabit connectivity.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 358.]

This is not a hammer; it is not even a toy hammer. It is like one of those sponge hammers that may make you feel better, but actually does nothing at all. This Bill does not go far enough in solving the problems brought about by a wasted decade in which the Tories allowed the re-monopolisation of broadband infrastructure and failed to take advantage of the world-leading position left by the last Labour Government. If the Government genuinely believe in the levelling up of the UK’s broadband, the Prime Minister has to do far, far more than this.

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Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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I will just finish addressing the previous point and then come back to my hon. Friend.

The point made by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) regarding the financial viability of the sector as a whole is incredibly important. If players in the sector—operators or vendors—fail, there will be an impact on the network and therefore on our security as it is part of our critical national infrastructure. The Huawei business model appears to be dependent on having really deep pockets, which means that it can undercut other vendors in tender processes.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Will the hon. Member give way?

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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May I just finish this point?

There are two consequences of Huawei undercutting other vendors: market share, and the dependence of operators on Huawei as a vendor. The networks that Huawei offers or builds are genuinely vendor-specific and operator-specific, which increases dependence hugely. I recognise the point made by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, and I think it is important for national security as well as for our economic security.

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Liam Fox Portrait Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con)
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It is essential in this debate that we do not conflate the issues of trade and security. In order to achieve greater trade with China we do not need to sacrifice our national security by including Huawei.

I worked hard as Trade Secretary to improve our trade with China, and getting better Chinese trade is good, not least for bringing millions—billions—of people out of poverty in that country. That is in itself a good thing, but—and it comes with a very large but—it must, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) said, come with a rules-based system.

We know that there is an incredible lack of transparency in China about what is in the state sector and what is in the private sector, and Huawei is a classic example of that. The distinctions that we accept in the free-market west are not accepted in the Chinese system, which is why, for example, it is so able to get around some of the pricing constraints that we put in tenders. It is very unclear how investment is funded. While competitors to Huawei such as Samsung have to make very clear to their shareholders how investment is raised and then spent, that transparency does not exist when it comes to Huawei. When I spoke to Samsung about this issue and asked why it was not at the forefront in countries such as the United Kingdom, its answer was, “Well, we have to invest along with the international rules and we have to account to our shareholders and to the law.” These are not things that apply to Huawei, and in any case the way that the tenders were constructed allows a company that lacks transparency such as Huawei always to underbid. If I wanted to get into someone else’s national infrastructure, and I was able to count on ghost state funding to do so, I would certainly take that opportunity. Why would we be surprised that that happens with Huawei?

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Between 6% and 7% of our overseas export trade is with China, and we are worried about offending it. One third of the Australians’ export trade goes to China. China would therefore have the power to cripple Australian export trade if it chose another supplier for some of those products, but it does not do so, and Australia has said no and ruled out high-risk vendors in its 5G. So the economic risks and the economic threats are much exaggerated.

Liam Fox Portrait Dr Fox
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Not only are they greatly exaggerated, it is utterly untrue that there is a link between the two. My hon. Friend has made the case perfectly clearly that the Chinese knew that the Australians were ruling out Huawei involvement yet they still trade with Australia, so the argument in this debate is a red herring entirely. This is an issue about national security. Also, in terms of trading and China, we have not yet resolved issues such as dumping, illegal subsidy and intellectual property theft—and that is before we take into account the 2017 national intelligence law.

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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I have talked with the NSC and GCHQ people a few times since last summer. One of the most disturbing things I found out, I found out yesterday. I said, “You are making a pledge that you can militate against the system”—we know from the oversight board that actually they cannot—“but for how long is that guaranteed?” I was told that the guarantee that we can defend the system lasts about seven years, which is about the same length of time as a car warrantee—not 10 years, not 20 years, not three or four generations, but seven years.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis
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My hon. Friend makes a very good point, but I suspect that seven years is a massive overestimate. Like our telephones, this technology changes every 18 months. Seven years is the achievement of an Einstein of this sector. That is point No. 1: our expert argument in the UK is that we are the only ones in step. That is not an argument that stands up very often.

My second point, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) referred earlier, is that this is a national security issue. The most recent debates on national security in this House in the past decade or so have been about terrorism, rather than potential massive conflicts between major powers. The House will remember that the IRA always used to say that we have to be lucky all the time, but they had to be lucky only once. That is a demonstration of the sort of analysis we must apply to security issues. Let us consider the Government’s argument. Let us imagine that the Government are right and we are wrong, but we do what we want to do. The worst case is that we spend a little more money and we introduce a technology, possibly better technology, maybe a year or two later. That is the worst-case outcome for our analysis. But if we are right and they are wrong, and we do what they say, the outcome will be to allow the undermining of our complete national infrastructure. This is not just a telecoms system; it is fundamental to the lifeblood of our entire national infrastructure. On a security analysis approach, it is just plum wrong.

Finally—this is designed to help the Secretary of State—there is the argument about time. I confess that I probably take the hardest line in our group on timing. My view is simple: we should separate this into two pieces. One is what happens about new installations. In my view, since they are called high risk vendors—the clue is in the name—there should be no more installations. I can see no loss in not installing another single piece of Huawei equipment. The argument that it cannot be done by anybody else has been proven by several speakers so far to be completely without foundation. My argument to the Secretary of State is that when he stands up, he must tell us whether his proposal involves continuing to put in place Huawei kit that we will then have to take out in our move to zero. On that basis, I am afraid it is very clear that the Back Benchers are right and the Government are wrong.

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Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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We have made at least three new commitments today. First, we will bring back the telecoms security Bill by the summer, which will enable the House—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady repeatedly challenged me over when the Bill would be brought back. We have said when we will bring it back for the House to debate. In the announcement from the National Security Council —from the Government—we said we wanted to diversify away from the 35% cap over time. For the first time, we are now setting out the process by which we will work with our Five Eyes and other partners to develop the new supply chain capacity to enable us to do that, and we have set a timetable for doing it within this Parliament. Finally, we have also said for the first time that we will allow much greater scrutiny by allowing the National Cyber Security Centre to—

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I understand that the Secretary of State and his Front-Bench team are trying to make sense of a bad situation, but he is not saying what point B is. He says we will “diversify away”. Are we doing that because it will give us a bit more leverage with China, or are we diversifying to the point of 0% high-risk vendors, and if so by what date?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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The Government—I think we all share this objective—would like to get to the point where we do not need any high-risk vendors at all, and we are setting out that process. That said, I want to be candid with hon. Members: I am not today repeating the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), lest they be misunderstood. We are not today setting out a timetable or date to get to a point where we do not have to rely upon them at all. When we introduce the telecoms security Bill before the summer, hon. Members will have the opportunity to debate this further.

I will make a little more progress and turn my attention to amendment 2. The issue of who is able to request a service from an operator is something that we were conscious of when we were drafting the Bill. As drafted, the Bill, particularly the term “lessee in occupation”, refers to a person who occupies a property under the terms of a lease. For the avoidance of any doubt, this could include assured shorthold tenancy or assured tenancy agreements. It is these types of tenancy agreements that I believe the shadow Minister is seeking to ensure are captured by the Bill, so we will not be supporting that amendment. My concern is that to expand the definition of persons who can make the service request would be disproportionate and potentially undermine a key policy aim of the Bill, which is for operators and landowners to reach agreements between themselves.

The Bill also reflects the fact that the evidence we have received does not suggest that the policy needs to be expanded. I am sure Members will agree that this is a sensible approach that maintains a healthy balance between all parties involved. I hope this clarifies who is likely to be a lessee in occupation and that this satisfies the shadow Minister.

I turn now to my concerns about amendment 3. The Bill aims to support leaseholders to gain access to broadband services from the providers they want. As drafted, the Bill already ensures leaseholders are not locked into services provided by a single provider. Nothing in the Bill prevents a lessee in occupation with an existing gigabit-capable connection from requesting a new service from another alternative provider. That alternative provider will need to give notices to the landowner in line with the electronic communications code. Should that landowner repeatedly fail to respond, that provider could apply for a part 4A order of its own in order to deliver that service. The Government cannot and should not compel independent, commercial companies to alter the way they choose to deliver their services unless there is evidence that a problem exists. Furthermore, far from improving competition and access to services, the amendment might have the unintended consequence of doing the complete opposite. Much of the cost of connecting premises is in the initial installation.

Finally, let me deal with amendment 6. The new connections provided by operators as a result of the Bill will allow greater efficiency and connectivity for consumers and give them an opportunity to benefit fully from certain services including “smart” or internet-connected products, which are often described as the internet of things. The amendment proposes that any operator exercising a part 4A code right must supply provide written information to new customers in the target premises. That would cover best practice on cyber-security in the use of the network connections that have been provided.

I appreciate the sentiment behind amendment 6, and the Government are committed to ensuring that the UK is one of the safest places to be online, but the amendment would impose an additional and disproportionate burden on operators, who may not be best placed to provide consumers with up-to-date information.

The Government have ambitious plans for the roll-out of greater connectivity throughout the United Kingdom, and I can assure the House that in doing so we will never compromise the safety and security of our telecoms networks. Trust in these networks is vital if we are to encourage the take-up of new technologies that will transform our lives for the better.

I have talked at great length to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green and others about our proposals and their amendments. I understand their genuine concerns about the decision taken by the National Security Council and the Government, which was presented to the House about a month ago. I hope that I have given them some comfort, although I accept that it is not all that they have been seeking. I hope I have at least reassured them that the Government appreciate their concerns, and that we are embarking on a path towards the ideal point that we all want to reach where we will have no high-risk vendors. I also hope that they in turn will appreciate that this is not the end of the process but an opportunity for their concerns to be expressed in the amendment, and that the substantial debate will come when we introduce the telecoms security Bill.

Ahead of that, for several weeks—indeed, a few months—there will be the opportunity for intensive engagement in all these issues, including full access to, and scrutiny of, the National Cyber Security Centre and its representatives. I hope that that will enable the House to make progress, but when the Bill is introduced there will of course be huge opportunities for all Members to table appropriate amendments, and the Government will address each one of them.

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John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
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I agree. I have supported my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have not wished to bore the House by repeating all their excellent arguments, but of course the fact that the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are all of one view does matter. I happen to think they are right, but even if they are wrong, sometimes we have to go along with wrong thoughts by our allies and friends—I know that only too well, trying to live in the Conservative party—in order to make things work. There has to be give and take, and I am sure that any other political party with an honest MP would agree that it has exactly the same issues. Before Labour Members get too conceited, I have to say that I have noticed even more extreme issues in the Labour party. It is important that there is give and take.

I happen to think our allies are right, but I want to stress the wider point that in this vision of a more prosperous Britain, we are going to have more skilled people. That must mean we have a bigger role to play in the technologies of today and tomorrow, and those are surely the crucially important digital and data communications technologies. I repeat my challenge to the Minister. We have heard from people who know about these things that this technology already exists among our allies and in safe countries today, so we have an opportunity to buy from them.

The Government and the commercial sector in the United Kingdom are about to commit enormous resource into putting 5G into our country. This is going to be a massive investment programme, and in this situation, money talks. I have no idea who will win the competitions. I do not have preferred vendors that I want to win the competitions, but I do know that I do not want high-risk vendors winning them. Surely this new Government, wanting to level up and wanting to strengthen technology and training, can use this commercial money and state money to better effect. Let us bring forth those providers now and get rid of those high-risk providers as soon as possible.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I think we all share some concerns that the Government seemed to be more amenable to moving their position last week than they are this week. At the end of the debate last week, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), who kindly responded to us, said that

“we will work to move towards no involvement of high-risk vendors”—[Official Report, 4 March 2020; Vol. 672, c. 299WH.]

in our system. I am unsure whether the Secretary of State has said the same thing today, and we would all be grateful if he clarified whether that statement made by the Minister is still a live statement or whether he is effectively rowing back from what the Minister said.

I speak in favour of the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) because I believe that high-risk vendors should not be in our critical national infrastructure. This is for reasons of national security, which have been eloquently put, as well as for a whole host of other reasons, including human rights, data privacy, the rule of law and economic competition—a critical one just mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood).

One of the most concerning elements of this entire sorry saga has been the litany of questionable claims. One of the problems of being a new Member—I speak in part to the good people behind me—is that we want to trust Ministers and although I hold these Ministers in high regard, I believe they have unfortunately been handed a poisoned chalice. There has been a great deal of misinformation in the past—none of which they are responsible for—but it is worth putting this on record with as many sources as possible, so that we can be absolutely clear what the argument is about.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green talked about Huawei being a private firm, because that is one of the claims that it has made. Sir Andrew Cahn described Huawei as being

“the John Lewis of China”,

and, frankly, I treat that description with the derision it deserves. The academic Chris Balding has made a study of the ownership structure of Huawei, and he has stated:

“Technically, the firm known as Huawei is Huawei Technologies. Huawei Technologies is 99% owned by Huawei Investment Holdings.”

He went on to say that Huawei Investment Holdings was a vehicle of the Chinese trade unions. Chinese trade unions are a public or mass organisation. Public organisations do not have shareholders. An example of a public organisation in China is the Communist Youth League. So, despite the laughable claims in this country and elsewhere that Huawei is a private company—and it is trying to sue people in France who are claiming the same thing, let it be known—Huawei has the same relationship to the Chinese state as the Communist Youth League.

Can Huawei be safely limited to the periphery of 5G networks? The core versus periphery argument has been well laid out by Opposition Members. The Australian Signals Directorate says that

“the distinction between core and edge collapses in 5G networks. That means that a potential threat anywhere in the network will be a threat to the whole network.”

I have been talking to Dr Ian Levy and other good, knowledgeable people from the NCSC. They dispute some of this, and they try to provide technical analysis, while that is not correct. I note what the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo says, on the advice of the National Security Agency. He says:

“Because 5G networks are largely software-defined, updates pushed to the network by the manufacturer can radically change how they operate.”

So if a network is run by an untrusted vendor, that vendor can change what the network can do quite easily using software updates.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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I absolutely understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. My concern, though, is that we have made promises to this nation in the last general election about the need to improve our gigabit broadband, so how are we going to do that?

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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The simple answer is that 5G and broadband are entirely different subjects, but I thank my hon. Friend for her question.

We have asked questions about state or industrial espionage issues with Huawei. We have been offered a no-spy agreement by Huawei and China. They promised not to spy on us. The idea that we would ever ask Ericsson for a no-spy agreement is nonsense. What would Ericsson ever want to know? How much IKEA furniture we were buying? So the idea of having to ask for a no-spy agreement is in itself rather dubious.

China has a dreadful reputation for IP theft and cyber-attacks. Just last month, members of the Chinese Liberation Army were indicted in the United States for the Equifax consumer credit hack, in which the personal details of 12.3 million Britons were stolen in addition to those of tens of millions of Americans. In 2015, cyber-attackers from China stole the sensitive personal data of 21.5 million US federal employees. Perhaps they are doing that because they want to buy everyone a birthday present, but somehow I doubt it.

There have been specific scandals in relation to Huawei. The African Union reported that every night between 2012 and 2017, computer systems installed by Huawei sent information from the African Union headquarters to China. As Secretary of State Pompeo says:

“As a matter of Chinese law, the Chinese government can…demand access to data flowing through Huawei…systems.”

Nobody has ever denied that that includes Huawei systems in western states and the United Kingdom. Is there a security risk? Is there an industrial espionage risk? The answer, without doubt, is yes.

The Government repeatedly reassure us that the spooks say it is okay. I respectfully take issue with that, for the following reasons. The proof of the pudding is in the detail, and what politicians say about what they have been told is sometimes not the case.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen
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My hon. Friend has obviously done a great deal of research on this subject. Does the fact that Huawei is offering very generous interest-free credit terms for its equipment set alarm bells ringing? In some cases, it is offering up to 30 years’ interest-free credit for its kit.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Huawei seems to have two business models. It either undercuts by 30% to 40%, or it simply supplies 115% of the credit needed to buy an entire system. Either way, it undercuts and drives others out of business. I look forward to addressing that point in a moment.

The true voice of GCHQ, without the spin, is found in the Huawei oversight reports, which have become increasingly disturbing. I repeat: we hear the true voice of GCHQ not in the words of Ministers, but in those of the Huawei oversight board. For any colleagues who wish to access the details, if they join our WhatsApp group, which has well over 40 members, I will happily pass them on.

The board found that it could

“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”

over time. In other words, the board is saying, “We can no longer give assurance.” This is the board speaking—it is not political spin. It added that, “as reported in 2018”, its work

“has continued to identify concerning issues in Huawei’s approach to software development…No material progress has been made on the issues raised in the previous 2018 report”.

It also stated:

“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 Huawei’s software engineering and”—

critically—

“cyber security processes are remediated

At present, the Oversight Board has not yet seen anything to give it confidence in Huawei’s capacity to successfully complete the elements of its transformation programme”.

If I received that as a bill of health, I would be extremely worried. That is the true voice of GCHQ.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
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My hon. Friend makes a very important point. A lot of this is about trust: who do we trust? Given that the oversight board has identified cyber-security risks in Huawei’s system and that it has no credible plan to put them right, why should we trust such an organisation and give it yet more work?

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. If Huawei was bending over backwards to fix its system, all credit to it—but it is not doing that. It is building a flawed system. After eight years, I have been informed that we still do not know whether the source codes that Huawei gives us are the same as those in the system it is establishing. That should cause concern.

Are the security services content? In the report we wrote last summer, Sir Richard Dearlove said that it was “deeply worrying” and

“a risk…we simply do not need to take”.

There are three additional factors that I am concerned about. First, Cheltenham was given a very narrow remit. It was not asked to give Huawei a clean bill of health or, “What do you think in a perfect world?” Cheltenham was given a specific, narrow, technical question. It did not go near the politics of fair and free trade and espionage. Secondly, and probably most worrying—

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) (Con)
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If broadband and 5G are separate, why is this amendment being pushed today? This debate is about broadband and we stood on commitments made by the Prime Minister during the election.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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That is a very good question and I thank my hon. Friend for asking it. The simple answer is that I have been asking for a Government debate since last summer, but unfortunately they have not seen it fit to have a debate in Government time on one of the most critical issues that we will face in coming decades. My hon. Friend will have to ask the Government why they do not want a debate in Government time on one of the most important issues of the day.

Tim Loughton Portrait Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making a very good case. Does not this come down to two main points? Do we trust the assurances given by a company that clearly will do what the Chinese Government tell it to do, or do we pay heed to the warnings of four of our major allies, which have taken the decision not to go down this route? Secondly, in such an important infrastructure project, where else would we accept a cut-price offer from a company in a nation that has littered the coasts of east Africa with infrastructure projects that have failed? We do not even know whether this will work properly, and the cost of picking up the bill—of picking up the pieces—when it goes wrong could be huge.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I thank my hon. Friend for his considerable eloquence. He sums up the issue very well.

On my second, and most revealing, security concern, when we ask members of GCHQ or the NSCS how long the guarantee is for—will it last 20, 30 or 40 years? —the answer is seven years. The oversight report has already stated that Huawei cannot provide a guarantee, but, technically speaking, the assurance accompanying the Huawei kit lasts the same amount of time as a car warranty. This technology will define the next 20, 30, 40 and 50 years, and GCHQ says, “We think we’ve got it covered for about seven.”

Thirdly, as I have said, the true voice of GCHQ is in the oversight reports. I am sorry to spend time on that point, but it is important because so many colleagues will be influenced by those saying, “Oh, GCHQ says it’s okay.” If they read between the lines and read the oversight report, they will see that this is not okay.

Craig Mackinlay Portrait Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) (Con)
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My hon. Friend makes the point about the seven-year cycle. If this goes ahead, are we committing ourselves to Huawei being the dominant force in this industry? We have had 3G and 4G, we are now on to 5G, and there will doubtless be 6G and 7G in time to come, but there will be no western ability to advance this software in the future because Huawei, through cut-price credit deals, will have crowded out the competition in perpetuity. That has to be dangerous.

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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, which I will come to. Does Huawei enable a multiplayer market? No, it does not. It probably destroys a multiplayer market, for the reasons given.

Huawei is becoming the vehicle by which China, through peaceful means, seeks to have considerable leverage in the critical national infrastructure of not only the United Kingdom but of any other western nations that are foolish and unwise enough to agree to let in a “high-risk vendor”, to use the Government’s own definition. In the next 10 to 20 years, the remaining western players will be put out of business, and, as my hon. Friend says, our 6G and 7G will be dependent on a country that we do not know we can trust and whose economic players are, by our own Government’s definition, “high-risk vendors”.

Huawei’s credit line is to the tune of $100 billion—that sounds a bit like Austin Powers. It can simply undercut anything that anybody else offers, to aggressively stay in the market. That, combined with its intense lobbying operation in this country, including John Suffolk, Andrew Cahn and others, puts it at an advantage to drive other people out of business.

Are there alternatives? Yes. Orange in France is building a 5G network with Ericsson and Nokia. In this country, O2 does not yet use Huawei. If the Secretary of State would be interested in saying anything on the emergency services network, we would be very interested in hearing that, because we do not think that the emergency services network should have a high-risk vendor in it. The US, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan and Australia are planning or building 5G networks.

Why has all this happened? This sorry state was reported in Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s Intelligence and Security Committee report in 2013. He found a miserable set of circumstances in which Government officials or civil servants had allowed Huawei into the system without telling Ministers. When Ministers found out that Huawei was in the system, they did not do anything about it. That, combined with an extensive lobbying operation and cut-price deals, has driven Huawei into its position in the market now.

What should we do? Well, let us have a debate—I hope that this is the beginning of one—as Australia and other countries have. I believe that, working with our Five Eyes and other partners—NATO and the European Union—we should lead. There is an opportunity now for the Secretary of State and Ministers to lead on this debate and to agree a common formula for a trusted vendor status, so we know that the people in our system are competent and safe. My right hon. and hon. Friends have made various points about the wider issue of the cleanliness of that—primary contractors are one thing, but if they are buying kit from China, the question is whether that is compromised, and it may well be. We need to find a way to organise the security of our audit process for 5G. We also have to agree a trusted vendor status when it comes to the Bill that will be put before us in June, and I look forward very much to the Government doing so.

Owen Paterson Portrait Mr Paterson
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I shall be brief. I begin by thanking the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary for their great courtesy and the huge attention they have given to several of us to try to find a resolution, because unfortunately some of us find the Government’s position incomprehensible. They had a good narrative: they could have said, “We have inherited a very bad position from preceding Conservative and Labour Governments. We would like to reduce the current position, where we have a high-risk vendor implanted in our 4G and other networks, to zero over a period of time.” That would be a perfectly logical plan, and we are tantalisingly close to the Government saying that. They have acknowledged that Huawei is high risk. Having a limit of 35% is a bit of a nonsense: it is like saying prisoners are allowed to build 35% of a prison wall. If 35% is a risk, and we cannot go above 35%, the obvious, ineluctable conclusion is that we should go to zero over a period of time.

We know that the talk of lack of alternatives is a nonsense—we have been through this. We know Samsung is supplying Korea; we know France has gone for others; the United States has gone for Ericsson; and Australia, with a huge dependence on Chinese exports, has gone for other vendors. We know there are other vendors, so that is all a nonsense.

We know there is a real risk. It is worth looking at the National Cyber Security Centre report. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) quoted two lines from paragraph 5.5.2. I just want to quote one sentence:

“Any national dependence on a high risk vendor would present a significant national security risk.”

Having had the honour of serving on the National Security Council as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I know that we must take that as the absolute first priority. I take the House back to the words of the Under-Secretary last week. He made it very clear:

“I conclude by saying simply that national security will always be at the top of our priorities and we will work to move towards no involvement of high-risk vendors.”—[Official Report, 4 March 2020; Vol. 672, c. 299WH.]

That was the Government’s position last week, and I am happy to support that position. What we need to have today is confirmation of how we get there.

The Secretary of State has moved a long way since the National Security Council. We will have a telecoms Bill in early summer. We will have a process with our Five Eyes partners, as proposed by the senators’ letter, which we all received last week. That is all thoroughly good stuff. All we need now is a commitment to say there will be an end date. We have to have from this debate a statement from the Government that there will be a point, in the reasonably near future, where there will be zero involvement of high-risk vendors. The briefing we had sent round to us this afternoon said that

“our intention is to further reduce the market share of high risk vendors so that we get to a position where we do not have to use a high risk vendor in our telecoms network.”

The Secretary of State said that we wanted to be a in a position where we do not have to use them at all, but that is where we are this afternoon. Nobody has to use this equipment: they are just driven to do so by commercial pressures, and it is only by doing what the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea have done, which is to block and stop high-risk vendors, that we will allow other vendors to grow, to prosper and to supply.

I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary back in his seat and talking to the Secretary of State. They have time still to intervene on me and give a clear commitment that when the telecoms Bill comes through in the summer, it will contain a definitive commitment to a firm date by which all high-risk vendors will have been removed from our system.