All David Davis contributions to the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act 2021

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

3rd reading
3rd reading: House of Commons
Report stage
Report stage: House of Commons
Report stage
3rd reading
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
29 interactions (924 words)

Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill

(3rd reading)
David Davis Excerpts
Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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10 Mar 2020, 1:14 p.m.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his place. It is somewhat surprising to see him, as my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) had expected to see him in the Commonwealth debate yesterday and I was expecting to see the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) today. As I understand it, after saying almost nothing over weeks in his post, the Secretary of State’s first moment at the Dispatch Box may be to reverse completely the Government’s position on part of the Bill. That raises the question: what information has changed and did the Government know what they were doing in the first place?

As we are taking all the amendments together, I shall consider the whole Bill. It is a great pleasure to speak on the Bill as shadow Minister for Digital. I have an interest to declare: before entering the House, I worked as a telecommunications engineer for 23 years, rolling out telecoms infrastructure in countries as diverse as Germany, Nigeria, Britain and Singapore. I am passionate about digital technology and the positive difference it can make; however, the 10 years for which I have been in Parliament have coincided with a rapid decline in the relative quality of our telecoms infrastructure under successive Conservative Administrations. Without the required ambition, this Government risk wasting a decade more.

The UK has a proud technological history, from the earliest days of the industrial revolution to the invention of the first fibre-optic cable and, of course, the worldwide web. That is why it was with such regret that on Second Reading I highlighted the fact that the OECD ranks us 35th out of 37 for broadband connectivity, even though ours is the fifth largest economy, and that 85% of small and medium sized enterprises said that their productivity was adversely affected by unreliable connections in 2019.

Sadly, our wasted 10 years in telecoms have not been limited to fixed infrastructure; both mobile and the online infrastructure of regulation have also been left to languish, reducing the impact of the Bill. Conservative Governments have entrenched the digital divide in the United Kingdom: 11 million adults lack one or more digital skills and 10% of households do not have internet access. At this rate, in 2028 there will be 7 million people without digital skills, which is tantamount to leaving one in 10 of our population permanently disenfranchised. Our part-time Prime Minister has changed his tune—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
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10 Mar 2020, 1:16 p.m.

I suspect I am going to agree with some of the things that the hon. Lady says later in her speech, but before we get to that point, let us not be too prissy about the party political element of this matter. The original problem with our telecoms industry started with the asset stripping of the industry by the Labour Government under Gordon Brown, with the spectrum auctions. The hon. Lady should recognise that if she is to make a sensible case.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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10 Mar 2020, 1:17 p.m.

I, too, look forward to the point at which we agree on something, but let us be absolutely clear about this: the telecoms infrastructure that the Labour Government oversaw was, in terms of competition and investment, an example for the world. If he does not believe that, the right hon. Gentleman can consult the figures.

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As the Government have refused to put in place any legislation or even to share plans—or plans for plans—we are taking matters into our own hands, hence our amendment 4, which would prevent operators taking advantage of the provisions of the Bill if they were using high-risk vendors in their deployment. It would effectively mean that the reach of high-risk vendors would not be allowed to grow as a result of this legislation. The legislation is narrow; our amendment reflects that narrowness, but seeks to prevent high-risk vendors from having an increased foothold in our networks as a consequence of this legislation.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis
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10 Mar 2020, 1:32 p.m.

May I draw the hon. Member back to the question of what we mean by a high-risk vendor? Quite rightly, she is focused on the security element, but in a throwaway line she talked about the attitude to trade with China. The whole concept of global trade requires a rules-based environment and proper behaviour by all the players. As far as we can tell, China seems to subsidise Huawei to the point that it can act in a predatory pricing mode towards western companies, with the clear aim of removing those companies from competitive pressure. Although that point is not as important as the national security issue, is it not still very important in its own right?

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah
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The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, so I will deal with it in some detail. I am limiting most of my remarks to reflect the work of the National Cyber Security Centre because it has done a great deal of work in this area and it is an offshoot of our security services. We trust it. As our national security is in the hands of our security services, I place my confidence with them.

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Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
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With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have no idea what he was intervening over. There is a free market, and when a free market operates we have competition because companies are set up to solve problems and sell their goods. When a company has unlimited funds and can undercut the others, there is no money for them, they cannot operate and they will go out of business. It is fairly logical for anybody who understands the free market.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis
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It is not just subsidy that supports Huawei and undermines its competition. At least some members of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service believe that Huawei started by stealing Nortel’s technology, which ended up destroying Nortel and putting Huawei in a dominant position.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
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10 Mar 2020, 1:50 p.m.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was going to come to that, but now that he has mentioned it, let us kill this one completely. The reality is that there has been a whole series of attempts—successful ones—to steal technology from other companies in the field, thus driving them out, by finding the edge they have on technology and selling it at a cheaper price. The bidding that took place under the previous Labour Government was raised earlier. I am not blaming the Labour Government for that; that just happens to be the way it was. But the amount paid by those companies was astonishing—about £24 billion to £25 billion—and it left them bereft of cash and desperate for cheap product.

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Liam Fox Portrait Dr Fox
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That was absolutely central, as my right hon. Friend says; whether the guarantees will turn out to be enforceable is a separate issue, however, and that of course points to some of the issues the United States has about Chinese membership of the World Trade Organisation.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis
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10 Mar 2020, 2:16 p.m.

As my right hon. Friend intimates, there is a massive subsidy from the Chinese state to Huawei, and that is for a purpose. Would he care to expatiate on what that purpose might be?

Liam Fox Portrait Dr Fox
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10 Mar 2020, 2:18 p.m.

In a moment I will come on to why I think our values must be a part of our approach to this particular issue, as well as national security, but there is a key question for the Secretary of State to answer in this debate, and it is a very simple one: do the Government believe that there is any risk to the United Kingdom’s national security if Huawei is involved in our 5G system? The Government cannot talk about a small risk; we do not want there to be a risk at all. One of the things I have found extremely irritating in this whole debate and in many of the briefings that have come forward is the response, “Don’t worry, we can mitigate the risk of Huawei being there.” Why would anyone want to mitigate a risk when they can avoid the risk in the first place?

That goes to the root of the issue. The idea that we must have Huawei because there are no alternatives is untrue. The United States is going to get 5G and it will get it without Huawei, because it will not bring that risk to its own national security. So what is wrong with the United Kingdom having to wait a little longer to get 5G, but to get a 5G that will give us security in the long-term—and, as has been rightly said, so what if it costs us a little bit more? The cost is much less than the risk to long-term national security.

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Liam Fox Portrait Dr Fox
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10 Mar 2020, 2:22 p.m.

I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, and I am grateful to him for raising that point. When I was practising medicine—or, as my wife would say, “When you had a proper job”—I was never inclined to do the cheapest or the fastest treatment. It was always the best treatment and that is what we have to apply here. This is a much more important issue. If we have to wait a little longer and pay a little more for the security of this country, then we should do just that.

We have a choice in politics and it is fairly binary: at whatever level and on whatever issue, we either choose to shape the world around us or we will be shaped by the world around us. I believe that the values we have in this House—certainly, the values we have as a party—and the conventions and traditions of this country are not something gathering dust on a shelf. They are a route map to the future. We have to believe in those values and be willing to defend them.

I hope the Secretary of State can give us enough concessions today to allow him to go away and think again about these issues. If he does not, I am afraid the Government will face an embarrassing vote today. As someone who is a former Secretary of State for Defence who sat on the National Security Council, it would give me no pleasure to vote against a Conservative Government because I believed they were undermining our national security. I urge the Secretary of State to go away and think about these issues, and bring them back in a way that provides satisfaction that our national security will not be sold for any reason whatever.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis
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10 Mar 2020, 2:23 p.m.

I have three very simple points to make. First, we are told that we should listen to the experts, namely the Government experts, but what is their argument? Their argument is this: the experts at our national security agencies, the greatest experts on this matter in the world, are wrong; the Australian Secret Intelligence personnel, who know China better than any other western agency, are wrong; and that the people in the Government of Japan, who are explicitly opposed to this policy and who are closest to China in terms of threat, are wrong. So if we listen to the experts, we should listen to the experts who are closest to this problem and who have the most resources, namely those or ours.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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10 Mar 2020, 2:24 p.m.

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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10 Mar 2020, 2:24 p.m.

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.

Oliver Dowden Portrait The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Oliver Dowden)
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10 Mar 2020, 2:28 p.m.

Connectivity is the lifeblood of any modern digital economy. It is vital if we are to create the conditions where anyone can succeed and thrive, regardless of their background or their postcode. The Bill is crucial if we are to deliver that. It is one of a number of steps that the Government are taking to increase connectivity speeds, reduce costs and create the right environment to encourage investment. The Bill is a crucial plank in delivering the manifesto commitments, on which we on the Conservative Benches stood and were elected three months ago, to deliver broadband to the whole of the UK and to support the levelling up agenda. However, I have concerns that some of the amendments would undermine that work. They could mean the UK risks losing out on the economic benefits of nationwide access to faster broadband networks and that many families living in blocks of flats would not be able to benefit from new broadband services.

It has been clear from the debate so far that there is one principal amendment at stake, amendment 1, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). Amendments 4 and 5, which I will deal with together, relate to high-risk vendors. The first point I would like to make is that I genuinely understand concerns, which many hon. Members have raised with me, that they have not had the time to consider these issues or to scrutinise them properly. The reason for that is that we will be bringing forward a Bill—as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said, my first task as Secretary of State is to convince the House on the approach to high-risk vendors—on telecoms security, which will enable the House to consider all these points. We will bring forward that legislation before the summer recess, so all hon. Members will be able to debate these points extensively. There will be opportunities for amendments to be made and an opportunity for the whole House to consider all these issues at great length. I will proceed to set out the steps that have led us to this point and the further steps that we are announcing today.

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Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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10 Mar 2020, 2:31 p.m.

I assure hon. Gentlemen that I will give way if they allow me to proceed a little more, because I want to set out the context, which may address some of the points that they intend to raise.

We will of course keep the 35% cap under review and, over time, our intention is to reduce our reliance on high-risk vendors as the process of market diversification takes place. We want to get to a position where we do not have to use high-risk vendors in our telecoms networks at all, but to do that, we have to work with our Five Eyes and other partners to develop new supply chain capacity in our critical national infrastructure. I can tell the House that we will do that in this Parliament.

We are not in a position today to set out a specific date or timetable for reaching no high-risk vendors. That would require a new decision to be taken by the National Security Council, but we will continue to engage with hon. Members over the weeks ahead.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis
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Will the Minister give way on that exact point?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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I will make a final point and then I will give way to Members. Hon. Members will have the opportunity to discuss controls on high-risk vendors when the Government bring forward legislation. I confirm that we will do that before the summer and that there will be an opportunity for colleagues to engage fully on how and when the commitments will be implemented. That will include the National Cyber Security Centre ensuring—exceptionally—that it will give evidence to parliamentary Committees, in addition to the Intelligence and Security Committee.

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Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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10 Mar 2020, 2:34 p.m.

I think we are all in agreement—certainly on the Government side of the House, and I believe that many Opposition Members also agree—that in an ideal world, there will be no need for any high-risk vendors at all. However, what we have to do, as a first step to getting to that point and within this Parliament, is ensure that we have developed the supply chain capacity. The point has been made by many right hon. and hon. Members that there is a lack of capacity on the supply side at the moment. That is why we are making this very strong commitment—by the way, this relates to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis)—which will involve considerable expenditure by the Government to ensure that we work with our Five Eyes and other partners to develop new supply chain capacity in our political and national infrastructure in this Parliament, so that we can then commence the process of ensuring that we move away from high-risk vendors.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis
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Point No. 1: there is unavailable capacity—well, Ericsson says that that is not true. It said that at Davos earlier this year and Samsung says that it is not true, but if we want proof of that, the Australians, who denied Huawei, already have 5G operations in Sydney and Melbourne being put together and the fastest 5G operations in the world exist already in America. There is not the shortage that the Minister claims.

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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10 Mar 2020, 2:29 p.m.

I understand the point that my right hon. Friend is making, but I hope that he would accept that at the moment, aside from Huawei, there is Ericsson and Nokia, which we are currently reliant on, and we need to enhance that capacity. That is why the Government are committing today to ensuring that within this Parliament, we work with our Five Eyes and other partners to ensure that we develop the extra capacity.