Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
It is good to see the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), in his place, discussing telecommunication matters again—it does not seem a long time ago that we were debating the whys and wherefores of Huawei. I am pleased to support him in encouraging us to ensure the completion of this Bill, albeit of course with due scrutiny, because it is well overdue. It seeks to establish a new security framework for the UK telecoms sector, and to ensure that telecommunications providers operate secure and resilient networks and services and manage their supply chains.
The Minister mentioned just how fundamentally this will change all our lives—how we live, work, socialise, travel and manufacture things. He is right to focus on how these difficult times of the pandemic have illustrated the importance of connectivity. It is all the more important that we are able to get Britain connected.
The Bretton Woods agreement after the second world war saw trading links—roads, ports and airports—deemed a priority so that we could get trade and the economy moving. As we come out of this pandemic and endure the recession, our digital economy will mean so much to our ability to advance and get back on our feet. I very much welcome the energy the Government are putting in here today.
I mentioned Huawei, but there is a wider dimension to this. Britain is in competition with other parts of the world, not least China, in making sure we have the high-tech digital capabilities to meet our future needs. The Bill is about not only putting in place protections against a country we are obviously in challenge with—China—but making sure we protect ourselves. The digital sphere provides not just opportunities but vulnerability to cyber-attacks; disinformation campaigns; interference, even in elections; manipulations on social media; data theft; and so on. The importance of security in communication links is paramount, and the longer we delay the Government’s being able to get on with this, the longer we have to lean on the older systems, which are very vulnerable indeed.
The Government’s target is to deliver nationwide gigabit-capable broadband by 2025. When he winds up the debate, will the Minister update the House on the ambitions for gaining full access to dwellings? I note with interest that gigabit availability is at only 16% in Bournemouth, so we would be delighted if the south-west, which, at 18.6%, is again below the national average, could receive support.
With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will digress from the main theme of the amendments and pose what I call the Rockefeller question, which is related to data. Rockefeller, of course, was the multibillionaire who formed Standard Oil. It took a US President, more powerful than Rockefeller, to stand up and break that monopoly. Arguably, today’s tech giants are replacing those monopolies of the 1900s, and that poses some awkward questions for all of us—for Government and society. The likes of Google and Facebook dominate the digital world. They now own 80% of the advertising market alone here in the UK. That poses big questions about how data is harvested, about the levels of tax paid, and about the stifling of fair competition. Those difficult questions must be answered. I appreciate that they are beyond the scope of the Bill, but it is important to get them on the record.