Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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.