Clause 1: Code rights in respect of land connected to leased premises
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 18, at end insert—
“(f) there are no grounds to suspect the operator intends to use the telecommunications infrastructure, or any part of it, to breach human rights after 31 December 2023.(1A) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)(f), “human rights” has the meaning of “the Convention rights” given by section 1(1) (the Convention Rights) of the Human Rights Act 1998.”Member’s explanatory statement
The amendment seeks to prevent companies from using UK telecommunications infrastructure to facilitate human rights abuse. To the extent that “use” of the infrastructure “or any part of it” brings in the supply chain, this seeks to engage the transparency in supply chain provisions of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 1 we return to an issue that we debated at Report stage of this Bill, back in June. Amendment 1 seeks to prevent companies using the United Kingdom’s telecommunications infrastructure to facilitate human rights abuses. To the extent that use of the infrastructure, or any part of it, brings in the supply chain, this seeks to engage the transparency in supply-chain provisions of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
Exactly one year ago, I asked the Government what assessment they had been able to make of the implications of their decision to award contracts to Huawei and other companies required under China’s national intelligence law to support, assist and co-operate with that state’s intelligence work. I also asked about Huawei’s compliance with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and what consideration they have given to such compliance in regard to their decision to award contracts to Huawei. Last year, the Government deftly avoided answering my question by simply saying it had
“expressed its concerns about China’s systematic human rights violations in Xinjiang, including credible and growing reports of forced labour”.
Throughout the previous two years, 2018 and 2019, I had raised my concerns about some of the shocking events unravelling in western China, a region in which I have travelled. In August 2019, for instance, I asked the Government what assessment they had made of reports that United Kingdom investors hold shares totalling £800 million in companies that supply CCTV and facial recognition technology being used to track Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. Although aware of the reports, the Government said they had
“not undertaken analysis of British investor shareholdings in Chinese surveillance companies”.
I wonder whether that is still the situation. Perhaps when the Minister comes to reply she can tell us.
My dissatisfaction with those replies, and in the context of my involvement in the legislative stages of the 2015 Act, my pro bono role as a trustee of the charity Arise, and as vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uighurs, prompted me to speak in Committee on this Bill on 19 May, and again on Report, on 29 June, when I moved an all-party amendment to the Bill. Co-sponsors of that amendment were the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who is in his seat today, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and my noble friend Lady Falkner. Two of them will be speaking to this group today.
In a series of powerful speeches from right across the Chamber—with only one partially dissenting voice—Members of you Lordships’ House made clear their deep anxiety that the Government were ready to hand over up to 35% of our 5G infrastructure to Huawei, a company that actively partners with the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang, where 1 million Uighur are incarcerated and used as slave labour. Parallels were drawn, during the course of that debate, with the way in which companies such as Siemens had used labourers in Nazi concentration camps to build an industrial empire, and the way in which Stalin used gulag labour to power his economic programmes on the backs of those who had been incarcerated.
In June, the Minister asked us not to divide the House but said that she would be willing to return at Third Reading—today—with an amendment to provide a human rights threshold which companies would be required to meet. It was also suggested that the Telecommunications (Security) Bill would be a more appropriate piece of legislation on which to attach such an amendment. I would be grateful if, when the Minister comes to reply, she can confirm that the title of that Bill has been drawn in such a way as to exclude that possibility.
Since June, meetings have been held with the noble Baroness and Ministers from the Department of International Trade, the Home Office and the Foreign Office. The debate also triggered a determination to lay further amendments both to the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill and to the Trade Bill. I know that the Minister has genuinely and faithfully tried her very best to honour the commitment that she gave to the House in June, and I really am grateful to her for the time and trouble she has taken throughout.
Let me remind the Government and the House why this issue is not going to go away quietly, and why the House will have the chance, on Tuesday next, to demonstrate that. Academics have described Xinjiang as the world’s most shocking example of state-sanctioned slavery. In Committee, I drew the Government’s attention to the work of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and quoted the institute’s Vicky Xu, who said that the idea that Huawei is not working directly with the authorities in Xinjiang is just “straight-up nonsense”.
I sent the Minister a video recording of shackled and blindfolded Uighur Muslims being led from trains to camps. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, whose own family suffered the grotesque horrors of the Shoah— commemorated yesterday, on Holocaust Memorial Day—said that such scenes were
“reminiscent of something not seen for a long time”.
I know that the Minister shares the sense of revulsion that we have all felt on learning of forced sterilisations and forced abortions for Uighur women, to prevent births within their community; the desecration of Uighur cemeteries to eradicate any trace of their identity; the deliberate separation of family members; propagandised re-education; and their exploitation as forced labour. Indeed, she drew my attention to an article in The Economist, setting out the scale and nature of what is being done. We all need to have a better understanding of what it really means when we see a label that says: “made in China”. Who made it? How was it made? Under what conditions was it made?
By way of exchange with the Minister, I would draw her attention to an article in The Spectator that appeared on 23 January. It was written by Harald Maass. He gives the example of Coca Cola’s production plant, which he says is
“a joint venture with a Chinese state company … surrounded by prisons and re-education camps in which China suppresses local ethnic minorities”.
Within 30 kilometres of that plant, there are 25 prisons and internment camps. In the whole of Xinjiang, there are at least 380 internment camps, some of which have huge structures and watchtowers, barbed wire and thousands of inmates. An analysis of satellite imagery suggests that there are crematoria in at least nine of them. The Chinese Communist Party says that the camps are educational and training facilities. Precisely what purpose does a crematorium have in an educational facility?
Uighurs are forced to work for factories or farms making products, some of which are sold in the United Kingdom. Over the past two years, work programmes have been significantly enlarged, with official statistics showing that 2.6 million “surplus rural workers” in Xinjiang were “relocated” within one year—an increase of 46%.
In July, the Government responded to the concerns expressed about both the use of slave labour and the security challenges by announcing that they would be removing Huawei from the UK’s 5G mobile network. UK mobile providers have been banned from buying new Huawei 5G equipment and they will have to remove all its 5G kit by 2027. I think the Government’s decision is the right one, and they have taken notice of the concerns which were raised during the debate in your Lordships’ House. In December, they went on to publish the 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy, and I also welcome that.
But the Government have gone further. Last week, Dominic Raab announced more plans to outlaw Chinese imports which can be linked to human rights abuse, and there will be fines and possible sanctions against companies which are connected to slave labour. He told the House of Commons that he had been shocked by, in his words, “the industrial scale” of the forced labour and the concentration camps, saying that he had never again expected to see pictures of people being herded like animals on to trains to take them away from kith and kin to be enslaved and stripped of their humanity. Such echoes from a terrible past have also been heard in reports of human hair taken from the shaved heads of Uighur people being exported to be used in wigs by those who, sadly, seem equally comfortable wearing fashion items made by Uighur slaves.
We await news from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, about how Magnitsky sanctions will be used against senior Chinese Communist Party officials who have overseen these programmes of mass incarceration. Perhaps the noble Baroness can give the House further information about when such action will be taken.
It is instructive that the US Government have already imposed sanctions and restrictions against 48 Chinese companies suspected of using forced labour or providing technical assistance to the suppression system of Xinjiang, described by the US Congress as the
“largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world”.
Adrian Zenz, a leading authority on Xinjiang, estimates that most of today’s cotton in Xinjiang is picked under forced labour conditions and with minimal payment. I particularly pay tribute to the BBC for highlighting this in a documentary recently. Zenz says:
“More than half a million Uyghurs — probably whether they want to or not — are being sent by the state to the fields for three months”.
Brands including Hugo Boss, Adidas, Muji, Uniqlo, Costco, Caterpillar, Lacoste, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger have been named in reports linking them to Xinjiang factories or materials. One in five cotton products worldwide is made with Xinjiang cotton. To its credit, Marks & Spencer has pledged to stop using any cotton from Xinjiang.
Next week, on Tuesday, the House will be asked to vote again on the all-party genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, which was passed in your Lordships’ House by a formidable majority of 126. In the House of Commons, with the equally formidable support of the former leader of the Conservative Party, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Nus Ghani Member of Parliament and other senior figures from the Government Benches, it came within 11 votes of achieving a majority. The movers of that amendment in both Houses have listened to constructive suggestions and have modified the amendment, which now stands in lieu and is on our Marshalled List.
There is no greater abuse of human rights than genocide: it is the crime above all crimes. No other word adequately describes a state complicit in the destruction of a people’s identity; complicit in mass surveillance; complicit in forced labour and enforced slavery; complicit in the uprooting of people, the destruction of communities and families, the prevention of births, and the ruination of cemeteries where generations of loved ones had been buried. It is the only word to describe a state which seeks to re-educate you so that you will believe that you, your people, your religion and your culture never existed, and the certainty that, through ethno-religious cleansing, you will cease to exist in the future.
Last week, I read the testimony of Sayragul Sauytbay, a woman who escaped from one of the camps. She said:
“Some prisoners were hung on the wall and beaten with electrified truncheons. There were prisoners who were made to sit on a chair of nails. I saw people return … covered in blood. Some came back without fingernails.”
One elderly woman’s skin had been flayed. She said:
“Some prisoners were hung on the wall and beaten with electrified truncheons”,
and that prisoners are used for medical experiments:
“Some of the men become sterile. Women are routinely raped.”
On the same day that the House of Commons voted on the genocide amendment from your Lordships’ House, the incoming and outgoing US Administrations both declared events in Xinjiang to be a genocide. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at his confirmation hearing in the US Senate that:
“On the Uyghurs I think we’re very much in agreement. And the forcing of men, women and children into concentration camps, trying to, in effect, re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide.”
There will be a Division on that amendment on Tuesday, and I have no wish to try the patience of the House. I am reluctant to divide the House again today, but before making a final decision I would like to hear from the noble Baroness why the judicial route to determining genocide is being resisted by the Government when they say that only the court can make such a determination and when distinguished jurists, including Members of your Lordships’ House—including two former Supreme Court judges and the former Lord Chief Justice—say there is no practical impediment to such determinations being made by our British courts.
In her letter to Peers of 26 January, the noble Baroness makes no mention of when the Government intend to bring forward legislation to enhance the provisions of the 2015 Act and to tackle supply chain transparency. She will recall that I have specifically asked her what response British Telecom has given her about how it intends to meet its legal obligations. I will listen carefully to what she has to say about those issues, especially when we can expect to see movement from the Home Office.
As always, I will listen carefully to the debate and to the noble Baroness, but I do recognise the efforts that she has genuinely made. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean.
My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House at this stage in the Bill, especially following that excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I do not wish to repeat many of the arguments that have been put at an earlier stage in the Bill and the information which has been made available to the House about the atrocities which are happening in China today—not just among the Uighur people. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has set out in great detail the arguments which I would have thought would persuade any Government of the virtues of this amendment.
I join him in paying tribute to my noble friend the Minister, who has worked hard to find a way through this. I appreciate that collective responsibility means that it is not always possible to deliver what Ministers might wish to achieve. However, following on from the remarks the noble Lord made about the debate on Tuesday next week on the all-party amendment on genocide, I think it is absolutely outrageous that those of us who wish to speak in that debate are unable to do so unless we appear in person at the House.
I have just received a letter from the Clerk of the Parliaments advising me that it is very undesirable for Members to come to the House, as indeed it is from a wider social point of view. At the beginning of each sitting, the Chair has indicated that all Members will be treated equally. It seems that the procedures that operate under ping-pong are preventing Members of the House carrying out their duties while being socially responsible and while following the advice from Public Health England and Scotland. I hope very much that this can be looked at before next Tuesday, so that we are all able to carry out our duties to the House of Commons and meet our responsibilities to our fellow citizens.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, seemed to indicate that he would not press this amendment to a Division. Had he done so, I would have happily supported him, because I believe that it is a sensible amendment for the reasons put forward in earlier stages of the Bill. However, as I have said, I will not detain the House other than to indicate my support for the noble Lord and my admiration for the enormous energy that he has put into defending human rights and championing the cause of those people in China who, unbelievably, are experiencing what we have always been told after the events in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s would never be allowed to happen again.
My Lords, I too start by paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his commitment and persistence. He is so often the conscience of this House on human rights abuses globally, and once more he has made a very powerful speech.
How can anyone who watched the ceremony to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, which was broadcast last night, not be deeply moved. It made plain how propaganda led to persecution and, step by step, to the appalling slaughter of the Jews and others in the Holocaust. It has been said, “Never again”, and international measures were put in place to try to counter such atrocities and bring people to account, yet there have been genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Myanmar and so on. As the Holocaust memorial event also mentioned, we are now hearing appalling accounts coming out of China, especially in relation to the Uighurs, including of forced organ harvesting, the sterilisation of women and the re-education camps. We hear credible reports, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, of slave labour. We know that, in Germany, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, in which the country had an international lead, drew on such slave labour, as did others.
We have seen worrying signs in the UK and across Europe more generally, and especially whipped up recently in the United States, of propaganda and discrimination being exploited by those seeking power. It has been an object lesson in how these things can happen, step by step, and how constant vigilance is always required. We knew it then, and we know it now, so the mover of the amendment and those speaking to it are right that, even here, in this limited Bill covering a specific area, the test should be applied as to whether an operator could be using infrastructure to breach human rights.
I am glad to hear of the efforts being made by the Minister to seek to address this, as the Government also did in the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, and there managed, working with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and others, to bring forward a relevant amendment. In her letter to us, the noble Baroness cites the actions of the Foreign Secretary in relation to Xinjiang. We are waiting to see the results of this translated into targeted sanctions, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, and the persuasion of other countries, starting with the EU, to follow suit. Sanctions are most effective if they are undertaken collectively.
We will shortly be considering the National Security and Investment Bill, and I am sure that these issues will be raised again. Prior to that, we have the Trade Bill. Surely if the Government are committed to this issue, when we get to that Bill, it is obvious that the Government must accept the amendment on genocide. How could we possibly agree to trade with a country that is committing genocide?
I thank the Government for their engagement, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, with Sir Geoffrey Nice, the chair of the China Tribunal, on forced organ harvesting, and I look forward to further engagement. However, that engagement needs to turn into specific action. We cannot turn a blind eye, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will make sure that we do not.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey of Didcot, has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine.
My Lords, last night at 8 pm, I lit my candle to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. Yesterday, Jewish leaders asked us to include later, less egregious events that have been committed against other groups—notably, and most recently, Chinese Uighurs. China is a superpower and we are a mid-sized state, but if the measure of a people is its moral standing, the United Kingdom has stood tall in the past and should continue to do so.
I note that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is evaluating whether to press this amendment. I say to the House only that the amendment is modest. It seeks to prevent companies using UK telecommunications infrastructure to facilitate human rights abuses. The consumers of that infrastructure would not want infrastructure delivered to them on the back of human rights abuses. It would also give investors a steer, because they would know that the law is clearly set out, and they could make their choices accordingly. There is little that I would add, other than to say that the people of this country rightly hold their leaders to high standards, and this House should uphold those expectations.
My Lords, I am pleased to speak at the Third Reading of this Bill. Like other noble Lords, I do not wish to detain the House for long, because it has taken some time to get to this stage.
I want to speak to Amendment 1, but it is worth reminding noble Lords that this Bill is, of course, intended to help the 10 million people in this country living in flats and apartments have the right to ask their landlord to help them get better broadband connectivity. This is a Bill to stop landlords failing to engage with telecoms operators. If we have learned nothing else in the past 10 months, although I am sure that we have learned plenty, broadband and better connectivity overall is now absolutely essential for people to be able to go about their daily lives in this country. As we have been hearing in the Covid-19 Select Committee of this House, the need for strong and reliable digital infrastructure will continue even after the pandemic has receded.
We have heard a very powerful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I remember him asking me the question this time last year. I will just say this to him: as he set out in his powerful speech, since the Bill was first debated last summer, events have indeed moved on. Although, as the Minister set out in her letter to all noble Lords, the amendment is not in scope, I am pleased to note that he and other noble Lords have recognised that the Minister has worked very hard to see if a way could be found to bring forward an amendment to the Bill that was in scope. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will accept that the motivation behind his amendment and the passion and knowledge with which he speaks have been recognised and widely accepted, and are already influencing policy. He rightly pointed to the recent statement made by the Foreign Secretary as well as, of course, to the Telecommunications (Security) Bill which is being considered in the other place and will reach us.
I want also to pay tribute to the 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy which was published last month. When I was the Secretary of State with responsibility for digital, we made the decision last year about who would be able to work to roll out better connectivity. It was absolutely clear that we must not find ourselves in the situation again of being overly reliant on one supplier; we need to have more suppliers in the chain. I think that the new US Administration will help us through working together to achieve that.
The noble Lord, with his amendment, has compelled the Government to act. He has outlined the fact that there will be another opportunity, next week in the Trade Bill, for the House to consider the very important matters that he and other noble Lords have raised. For the reason that our fellow citizens need better connectivity, and that those who live in flats or apartments must be able to ask their landlords to engage in connectivity issues, this Bill is much needed now on the statute book.
My Lords, on Report, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said that this amendment would empower the Government to deny infrastructure access to operators whom, they believed, were abusing human rights. This is part of an important conversation about how modern slavery legislation might apply to the digital economy and especially its supply chain.
Since Report, this argument has been rehearsed on a number of occasions in other places. That reflects the tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and his colleagues. Each time the argument is repeated, it is no less powerful, horrifying or revolting to hear what is happening.
As we heard from the noble Lord, the Trade Bill has been one focus for this discussion. The Government spurned a real opportunity when they whipped Conservative MPs to vote against the so-called genocide amendment earlier this month. That amendment reflected the discussions during the passage of the Trade Bill in your Lordships’ House. It sought to introduce a mechanism to allow British courts to determine whether a foreign country had committed genocide. The amendment was introduced in your Lordships’ House to deal not just with the Uighurs but with other human rights issues as well. I hope that your Lordships will listen sympathetically next Tuesday when the amendment is reintroduced.
I, too, thank the Minister both for her comments and for her detailed letter, which showed empathy on this issue and explained why her department had been unable to bring forward the amendment previously promised. My admiration for the ingenuity of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others has increased. They have managed to table this amendment to a Bill that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, correctly characterised it, is intended to help tenants obtain broadband.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, also implied that the issue had, as a result of these discussions, somehow been dealt with. Although there has been welcome movement on the Government’s part over Huawei, it would be wrong to say that the issue has been dealt with. I asked the House of Lords Library whether a law exists that prevents telecommunications operators from using their infrastructure to breach human rights. I thank the Library for its thorough work, but it was unable to find evidence of legislation preventing telecoms operators from using tele- communications infrastructure to breach human rights. In other words, there is no such legislation. The Library asked Ofcom whether it was aware of any such requirement in legislation; Ofcom said that it was not. Legal experts were also unaware of anything in telecoms legislation. In other words, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the signatories to this amendment have identified a gap in the legislation.
The Human Rights Act applies only to public authorities and other bodies—public or private—that perform public functions. There is no general requirement on companies to comply with human rights obligations, although that has sometimes been applied to the relationship between companies and private individuals. As others have said, there are UN guiding principles on human rights and business. The Companies Act 2006, the EU non-financial reporting directive 2014 and the Modern Slavery Act all contain commentary on human rights but none deals with this particular issue.
It is a shame that we have had to have this debate almost by proxy. Even the noble Lord, Lord Alton, would admit that this Bill was not designed to address this issue. Such a Bill is needed so that we can have this discussion in a discrete environment. I understand that my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones was promised that there would be a communications security Bill. I assume that the National Security and Investment Bill is what that has metamorphosised into—perhaps the Minister could confirm that. As my noble friend Lady Northover suggested, this issue could be discussed in that context. I am working on that Bill, but it seems to me to have to been drawn very narrowly. Given this legislative absence, it is appropriate that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others have brought forward this amendment now. If the noble Lord, Lord Alton, decides to push it to a vote, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches will support it. If he does not, we shall support an amendment to the Trade Bill. Even if the noble Lord decides not to push for a vote today, the Government can be sure that this issue is not done with and will not go away.
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has rehearsed the background to his Report stage amendment and explained the reasons for bringing it back to your Lordships’ House today. We simply cannot turn a blind eye. Standing aside or ignoring what is happening in China is tantamount to condoning the appalling actions described by the noble Lord in his powerful and moving speech.
A lot has changed since June. I am sure that the Minister will update us on subsequent government action, particularly in relation to Huawei equipment. As a number of noble Lords have said, other legislation—including the Trade Bill, before your Lordships’ House again next Tuesday—has amendments bearing on this issue. The case made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is unanswerable, as I have made clear. However, tabling this amendment to this Bill is perhaps not the best way of achieving his wider objectives. It might, I suppose, adversely affect the chances of the big win that we hope to achieve on Tuesday with his amendment to the Trade Bill.
Everyone who has spoken today has supported the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and paid tribute to his campaigning and his ceaseless tenacity on this cause. If he chooses to divide the House, we will support him, but I hope that he will feel able to accept the Government’s position on this narrowly focused Bill and that it would be better to defer the decision to Tuesday’s debate on the Trade Bill.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate. We all agree that this is a matter of great importance, which is why, on Report, I committed to bringing the issue back at this stage. I said:
“We will endeavour to find all the time possible to have sufficient ground to bring back a government amendment.”—[Official Report, 29/6/20; col. 538.]
I would like to reassure noble Lords that, working with officials in my department, I have tried my utmost to find a way forward.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his generous words. I have virtually met and spoken with him and other noble Lords on several occasions to discuss their concerns. My officials have had discussions with their colleagues in the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Public Bill Office on how the Government might bring forward a legislative provision that—to quote the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on Report—had “teeth”.
We put two different versions of a government amendment forward to do this but were advised by the Public Bill Office that they were out of scope. It has been unequivocal that this includes any amendment addressing issues in the supply chain, such as those issues rightly raised by the noble Lord. Such issues—and thus, amendments seeking to address them—are therefore out of scope of this Bill. As a result, regrettably the Government have been unable to table an amendment to this effect, as I set out in my letter to all Peers on 26 January.
This also means that this amendment will not impact on the supply chain in the way that its sponsors intend. Indeed, it does not touch the supply chain at all. This is why we are resisting the amendment today, but along with other noble Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for beginning a very important new stage of the conversation about modern slavery, particularly in Xinjiang, and human rights more broadly.
Several noble Lords invited me to share some of the actions that the Government have taken, and I am pleased to do so. On 12 January, the Foreign Secretary announced a series of measures to ensure that UK businesses and the public sector are not complicit in human rights violations in Xinjiang. This includes four main actions: first, strengthening the overseas business risk guidance to make clearer the risks to UK businesses investing in, or with, supply chains in Xinjiang; secondly, a review of export controls as they apply to the situation in Xinjiang, to ensure that we are doing all that we can to prevent the export of goods that may contribute to human rights violations in Xinjiang; thirdly, the introduction of financial penalties for organisations which fail to comply with the Modern Slavery Act; and, fourthly, ensuring that government and public sector bodies have the evidence that they require to exclude suppliers that are complicit in human rights violations in Xinjiang.
This announcement is a clear demonstration of the UK’s global leadership role in standing up for the rights of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. I thank all noble Lords who acknowledged that Government’s work in this area. These measures will help to ensure that no British organisation, whether public or private sector, is contributing inadvertently to violations in Xinjiang. As we know, consumer opinion and reputational considerations can and do play an important part in influencing corporate behaviour, and we as a Government are sending a strong signal that we will not stand by as these violations continue, and that there is a reputational and economic cost to them.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked me three questions. The first was about the timing of putting into practice the legislation from the Home Office. We will legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows us to introduce penalties for non-compliance, and other measures which will strengthen the transparency legislation.
Regarding our conversations with BT, I am sure that he will understand that it would not be appropriate to comment on conversations with an individual company, but I think that he will also agree that we, like him, want respect for human rights to be at the centre of all business that takes place in this country.
On the role of the judiciary and state genocide, which the noble Lord understands much better than many people, and certainly me, state genocide clearly is very difficult to prove in a judicial context. The evidential threshold is high, and proceedings tend to be long and costly. It would be difficult for the High Court effectively to determine genocide, with the inevitable constraints that would exist on access to evidence and witnesses, and it would be wrong for the Government or MPs to subcontract to the courts our responsibility for deciding when a country’s human rights record is sufficiently bad that we will not engage in trade negotiations. Parliament’s responsibility is to determine when sanctions take place and with whom we negotiate. We continue to believe that responsibility rests with Parliament.
I trust that noble Lords will recognise the work that has been done in response to the situation in Xinjiang since we last debated this Bill, but, importantly, I hope that noble Lords have listened to what I said in earlier debates about the real-world impact of this amendment, which would discourage any telecom operator from making use of the legislation while not having the intended impact on the issues that the noble Lord raises. I also highlight that we have introduced the Telecommunications (Security) Bill in the other place since this Bill was last before your Lordships. Furthermore, we have published a diversification strategy, which addresses the lack of diversity in the supply chain.
The noble Lord, Lord Fox, asked about the limits and suggested that a promise had been made—which surprised me—to his noble friend the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about the ability to put down amendments in relation to human rights with the Telecommunications (Security) Bill. The Telecommunications (Security) Bill is an appropriate vehicle for amendments relating to equipment vendors, but it is focused on network security and national security. As I said earlier, our ambition is that our response to human rights should go across all business. Many noble Lords may have noted that, in advance of Second Reading of that Bill in the other place, illustrative drafts were published of how the Government could exercise the designation and direction powers contained in that Bill. I look forward to discussing that Bill when it reaches this House.
Returning to this Bill, as I said on Report, telecoms operators would be disincentivised from making use of the Bill’s provisions, were the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to stand part of the legislation. This opinion has also been endorsed by a representative body of telecoms operators themselves—namely, the Internet Service Providers’ Association. As my noble friend Lady Morgan of Cotes noted, this Bill was designed initially to be used only in a narrow set of circumstances, to connect people who live in blocks of flats and who have landlords who have failed to respond to repeated requests for access. I am sure that all Members of this House understand that, as drafted, this Bill offers very real benefits to millions of people in flats and apartment blocks across the UK. It will allow families to get better broadband now and not have to wait until their landlord decides finally to respond. To risk that for something that would not have a material effect on supply chains would be wrong.
I have the greatest respect for the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the important issues that his amendment seeks to address. The noble Lord has been an assiduous advocate for this cause, and the House recognises that he speaks with not only experience but great courage on human rights. Equally, I hope that he recognises how much the Government have done to respond to the human rights abuses that he has rightly highlighted.
Given that it remains the case that this amendment does not deliver the human rights benefits which the noble Lord and so many others in this House seek, that it risks preventing millions of people living in blocks of flats from accessing broadband, and that the Government are taking concerted action in relation to the abuse of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, I beg the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, we are very grateful for the Minister’s reply. She said that the Government wished to table a specific amendment which was ruled out of order by the Public Bill Office. Is it the Government’s intention to bring the precise power that they were going to take in this Bill in the Telecommunications (Security) Bill? The Government control the legislative process. Will they bring forward the precise proposal they wished to bring forward in this Bill in another, which will come before us in the near future?
Just to clarify, the Government brought two versions of the amendment, not one. To the best of my knowledge, there is no intention to bring it back because the focus of the Telecommunications (Security) Bill is on telecoms security and national security. Therefore, any such amendment would face the same barrier as it faced in this Bill—namely, it would be out of scope. If it were effective on the supply chain, it would be out of scope.
The Government have always said that genocide must be decided judicially. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, has always reiterated that. Can the Minister clarify what she apparently said —that the Government seem now to have decided, in effect, that genocide might be decided by Parliament?
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for the way she set out the case to the House. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, she talked a little more about digital supply chain transparency. Given that this falls within her departmental brief, can she explain whether it will be within the security Bill that will come forward, so that it can be part of the discussion that takes place on that Bill? Also, will she share the wording of the two amendments she referred to in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, with the House so that Members can decide whether there are things that we would like to test on the Table Office, to see whether they could be brought into scope?
On the noble Lord’s second point, I will have to defer to colleagues about the ability to do that. In relation to the supply chain, my understanding is that that work is complementary to the security Bill rather than directly within it. Again, I am happy to write to the noble Lord to confirm that.
My Lords, I promised the House that I would listen carefully to noble Lords’ contributions. I gently say to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, that we would not have been having this debate if the amendment had not been in scope, so this amendment is in scope. The problem for the Government has been being able to get an amendment in scope to deal with the human rights issue. I recognise that the problem is that this is not a tree on which you can very easily hang new limbs. The Bill was therefore an opportunity, rather than necessarily the right piece of legislation, to bring before the House the enormities of what is happening in Xinjiang and the links of state agencies and arms, such as Huawei, to the Chinese Communist Party. That we have done across the Chamber very successfully, and I am grateful to the Government for the moves they have made. I set that out in my remarks at the outset of the debate. I am particularly grateful to the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, who has been exemplary in the way she has dealt with the arguments and with individuals, especially difficult, persistent, awkward Members of your Lordships’ House, who do not easily let go on issues of this kind, and I do not think the House would expect us to.
The Minister has been given notice that we will be here again on Tuesday dealing with the extraordinary issue of genocide and what can be done about it. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, I was puzzled by what the Minister said to the House a few minutes ago. It has always been the position of the Government—not just this Government, but their predecessors as well—that the determination of genocide is a matter for the courts. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself said that in the House of Commons only a week ago, and therein lies the problem. If there is not a court mechanism in the United Kingdom to deal with this, we have to rely on international courts, particularly the International Criminal Court, and everyone knows that if you were to take to the Security Council the horrors taking place in Xinjiang, which have been described in your Lordships’ House, the possibility that the People’s Republic of China would refer itself to the International Criminal Court for a criminal investigation is risible.
I am a great supporter of the ICC, which was set up by the Rome statute and a genuine attempt to fill the gap that has always been there since the 1948 convention on the crime of genocide, but sadly it has not done so and we still have to address how we can get determinations of genocide made. I think the only way we can do that is now through our own courts. Senior figures from our judiciary have spoken in favour of this. Retired Supreme Court judges, a former Lord Chief Justice and many senior figures in your Lordships’ House with a legal background have said that it is practical and something that our courts can and should do. I hope the House will have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said today.
I end by saying two things, one which the Minister will be pleased to hear and the other directed to the House authorities. Like the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, I find it extraordinary that, under ping-pong arrangements, it is not possible to take part in a debate on something as important as an amendment sent back to your Lordships’ House by the House of Commons on an issue such as genocide without being physically present. To be told that in the same week that we are being told that we should not be here at all unless we really have to be is vexing, to put it mildly. I hope the House authorities will consider that and see whether there is anything that can be done before next Tuesday, as the noble Lord said.
Having made all those points, the Minister will be very pleased to know that it is not now my intention to force this issue to a vote today. I simply thank all those who have taken part in our proceedings. Like the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I say to the House that this is not over yet and there is so much more that can be said and will be said before it can be brought to a resolution. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 1, page 5, line 7, at end insert—
“(k) aimed at ensuring that nothing done by the operator in the exercise of the Part 4A code right unnecessarily prevents or inhibits the provision of an electronic communications service by any other operator.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require a Part 4A code right to be subject to terms intended to prevent uncompetitive behaviour.
My Lords, I have tabled this amendment in light of the strength of feeling in both Houses. Throughout the passage of the Bill, the Government have been clear about the intentions and goals of the legislation. We want to make it easier for digital infrastructure providers to access multiple-dwelling buildings so that those living in flats and apartments can access the connectivity they need from the providers they want. We want to ensure that residents are given choice and are able to access fast, reliable connectivity without being limited by their property owner’s silence.
Members of both Houses have raised concerns that consumers could find themselves locked into a provider as a result of this legislation. We continue to believe that such a scenario is unlikely and the legislation as drafted originally prevents it happening. The Bill, for example, does not limit the number of concurrent Part 4A orders that can exist at a property. This allows any resident in the property to search for the provider or service they want and request a service, even in properties where gigabit-capable, full-fibre connections might already exist. That provider is then able to make an application for a Part 4A order via the courts, should the landowner repeatedly fail to respond to requests for access.
Nevertheless, while we are confident that sufficient protections are already in place, we believe there is a benefit in taking a belt-and-braces approach. This amendment ensures that when operators access a property under a Part 4A order the terms on which they will do so will preclude them installing their infrastructure in such a way that would prevent a subsequent operator installing their own apparatus. As with the other terms imposed by a Part 4A order, they will be contained in regulations. Those regulations will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and, before they are made, they will have been consulted on with a range of key stakeholders. In this way, we seek to prevent a scenario whereby an operator purposefully installs their network equipment within the property so that it obstructs a second operator in installing theirs and providing a service to the building. I hope that this amendment reassures noble Lords and alleviates their concerns on the matter. I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendment, which we welcome, brings us into the territory of the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, if she is still in her virtual seat, will be sitting more easily in this part of the discussion.
When speaking previously to an amendment brought by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, supported by myself and others, the Minister agreed that we should aim to simplify the lives of consumers. To that end, she said that the Government would be willing to table an amendment at Third Reading. My understanding is that this amendment honours that statement. The Minister said that Her Majesty’s Government consider it fair to amend the Bill in this way and that the aim is to include measures to ensure that an operator must not install their equipment in any such anti-competitive way. Therefore, the test of the amendment is whether it reaches that objective.
I shall discuss two aspects of the amendment’s wording. First, the words,
“nothing done by the operator”,
seem to imply more than just technology, because there are other things that an operator could do. Perhaps the Minister can explain “nothing”. It could refer to a contractual matter or all sorts of other areas, including service as well as the purely technological. Secondly, there is the phrase, “unnecessarily prevents”. What is a necessary prevention? In other words, how will the regulations deal with those two areas—“nothing” and “unnecessary”?
I had the opportunity to virtually bump into the Minister this morning—obviously with at least two metres between us—and give her some warning of my concerns. Regarding the practical way this matter will work, let us imagine that I am a tenant in a new property. I move in, wish to switch my operator and start to encounter technological problems with the process. What do I do next? How does the amendment help me to deliver on that?
Quickly in conclusion, none of this means anything if we do not have great connectivity. I could not, therefore, pass this opportunity by without asking the Minister where we are on that. The delivery of ultrafast broadband was a subject for discussion in Committee and on Report, as was the creation of an open source network. It is safe to say that some time has passed since we last discussed that issue. As the Minister stated, some technological developments have included, not least, the gradual removal of Huawei from the supply chain. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has made several statements about the bandwidth that will be provided and its extent—statements at odds with what network providers have said is possible. Where are we on the Prime Minister’s gigabit connectivity being available to everyone? Where are we on the development of open source networks? If the Minister can answer those questions, I am sure that we will support the amendment.
My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of Members’ interests. I was not a Member of this House when the Bill was debated at Second Reading or on Report. Therefore, I begin by saying how much I welcome it. In my experience as the Minister responsible for rural broadband rollout between 2010 and 2016, I soon came to realise that planning is the biggest obstacle that prevents the rapid deployment of the broadband that this country desperately needs. The planning system is hopelessly complex and time-consuming, and imposes enormous costs on operators. Anything that can make their lives easier has to be welcomed. Multi-dwelling units contain dozens of potential recipients of ultrafast broadband. If we can make it easier and simpler for operators to deploy their technology, that is to be welcomed.
I was also delighted that the Government yesterday published a consultation on reforming the Electronic Communications Code. Again, I was the Minister who had a first stab at that, which was obviously not good enough, and that is why we need a second bite at the cherry. I should point out to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, that the foreword to that consultation document contains some heartening statistics on the deployment of gigabit broadband. From memory—I read it only this morning, but I am getting older—some 30% of homes can now potentially receive gigabit broadband. It is good to see the Government pressing ahead on another front.
I should say on operators entering multi-dwelling units that one of the Government’s commitments during the passage of the Bill was to publish a consultation on the code of practice and then a code following Royal Assent. Given that the Bill imposes obligations on landlords and effectively interferes with their property rights, it is vital that landlords are reassured that the operators will adhere to the highest possible standards. The code of practice is also important for some of the smaller operators. There is some nervousness among them. If landlords are worried about operators’ standards when deploying the technology, they will simply take refuge by dealing only with the biggest operators and not allow insurgents, as it were, or start-ups to fibre-up their buildings. I hope that when she responds the Minister can give some reassurance that the code of practice consultation will be issued imminently.
I should also point out that the Bill does not yet cover the issue of shared freeholds, and I hope that the consultation on the Electronic Communications Code, which I am not covers this issue, could be used as a vehicle for looking at how operators can enter buildings where there is a shared freehold—the typical building being a Victorian house that has been split into flats. Some 5 million premises fall within that category and there needs to be some way forward to allow operators to access shared freehold premises.
I am not sure whether the amendment is necessary in practice, but I understand the Government’s motivation to reassure Members of both Houses that the Bill will not inadvertently create monopolies in multi-dwelling units. I should also ask the Minister to respond, either now or in writing, to the concern of some operators about the Government and Ofcom’s ongoing intentions to impose wholesale access on operators. It is one thing to say that an operator should not do anything, intentionally or inadvertently, to prevent a competitor supplying technology to multi-dwelling units, but it is quite another to impose on a company the obligation to allow others to use the infrastructure it has invested in and paid for. What is the direction of travel of the Government and Ofcom, because I know that they have previously thought about imposing wholesale obligations on operators in multi-dwelling units?
However, as I say, I welcome the amendment. My understanding is that any attempt to physically impede competitors from entering a multi-dwelling unit would fall foul of the ATI regulations and, indeed, the EU’s Electronic Communications Code, so I am not entirely certain that the amendment is necessary. However, in the sense of providing statutory reassurance that a much- needed piece of legislation will open up access to ultrafast broadband to many millions of people living in multi-dwelling units the amendment has to be welcomed.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, and to welcome him to the select band of broadband and telecoms legislation aficionados in this House. As my noble friend Lord Fox said, on Report we welcomed the principle of the previous amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, in respect of Part 4A code rights. Likewise, we welcome the Government’s Amendment 2 today.
Strangely enough, however, I do not think that the Government’s amendment is as good as the original, in terms of what the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, was trying to achieve. It substitutes an arguably unclear negative injunction for a positive duty, where it is clear what is intended. On these Benches, however, as my noble friend Lord Fox indicated, we understand the intention behind the amendment, but how it is interpreted when put into practice will be the test. As he also said, we have throughout been encouraged to hear of the development of open radio access networks and strongly support them.
As the noble Baroness mentioned in her letter to us, in the period between Report and today, we have seen the publication of the Government’s 5G diversification strategy. I see that now NEC acting as the systems integrator will be building a testbed for O-RAN funded by the DDCMS, the new O-RAN project. Will the Minister say when this will be up and running and is this the promised Smart RAN interoperability centre—SONIC—or a precursor to it?
What is the current status of the telecoms diversification task force and the National Telecoms Lab, and what is the status of international collaborations? When developed, these open RAN standards will provide operators with the flexibility to use different vendors and obviate the need to take out existing networks on a change of operator. By the same token, for the consumer it would mean likewise that they are not captive to any particular operator with their equipment. That is a development that we wholly welcome.
My Lords, I thank the Government for their amendment. As other noble Lords have said, this was originally raised in the other place by the Labour Party and withdrawn. A similar amendment was tabled by myself and others, supported by the Liberal Democrats, and we had a good debate in Committee. It is important for the progress of the Bill as a whole that these points were picked up. It is very good that the Government have come back with a proposal. Although, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, the language is slightly different, the intention is clear and similar to what I wanted, because it deals with a real-life issue which could affect consumer choice. Despite the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, I would argue that it is pro-competition and will benefit to those involved in this process.
The noble Lord, Lord Fox, raised some interesting points of detail and I look forward to the Minister’s response. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, raised some important wider points about the Bill’s narrow focus, which, of course, it cannot be blamed for, in the sense that it is what it is. It is about a particular issue which will unblock the current arrangements, in which non-responsive freeholders can hold back developments wished for by their tenants.
He also made some good points, which I hope we will not lose sight of as we look forward to further work from the Government on this issue: planning issues relating to the access required for new-generation technology; shared freeholders; questions about street works—how we synchronise them and make sure that they are effective; and the use of masts, particularly for 5G and other superstructure, which is not covered by this Bill but obviously needs wider consideration, perhaps in the next round of legislation.
As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, although a blizzard of other issues were raised in his short introduction, it is very good to have the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, with his extraordinary experience in this area, contributing to this debate. I hope he will keep on with his very focused questions. I am happy to support the amendment and look forward to the Government’s response.
I think that might be from the previous group. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is not in his place. He wanted to ask the Minister a question on the first group, but I think the message he sent was delayed in reaching the Woolsack electronically.
I thank noble Lords who spoke in this short debate for their support and reflections. In response to the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, about “unnecessarily” and “nothing”—a level of detail of which your Lordships’ House can be proud—“unnecessarily” is included to allow for the possibility that there might be circumstances in which an operator may have to, by necessity, prevent or inhibit the provision of a service, such as a broadband connection by a subsequent operator. I am happy to put this in writing. Similarly, nothing done by the operator is a protection to make clear that an operator cannot hide behind exercising their Part 4A code right, to do something that would unnecessarily prevent or inhibit the provision of a connection by a subsequent operator.
The key point, as I said in my opening remarks, is that we will be setting out in secondary legislation the terms under which operators will be granted access rights. We have committed to consulting on those terms and it is of the utmost importance that we get that right. The noble Lord also asked how this will impact on real life and the tenant—another important question. A customer can always request an operator of their choice; nothing has changed in the legislation. Nothing in the Bill prevents a second operator requesting code rights from a landlord.
Turning to the noble Lord’s questions about the Government’s ambition in this area, I thank my noble friend Lord Vaizey for highlighting the important progress we have made. The Government are working hard with industry to target a minimum of 85% gigabit-capable coverage by 2025, but will seek to accelerate rollout further to get to 100% as soon as possible We have committed £5 billion to support the delivery of gigabit-capable connections to the hardest-to-reach locations in the country.
My noble friend Lord Vaizey and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, referred to the further progress needed to facilitate the rollout and welcomed the new consultation on the electronic communications code, which was announced yesterday. We are seeking advice and guidance on a number of potential changes, including addressing unresponsive landowners outside multi-dwelling building environments—a subject debated by your Lordships in earlier stages of the Bill—and supporting operators and landowners to reach mutual agreement that facilitates the deployment of gigabit-capable networks. While the consultation does not propose specific reforms, it sets out a range of possible measures to tackle the issues raised with us about the current code. These include the time it takes for agreements to be completed, the confusion about upgrading and sharing rights, the lack of consistency in the treatment of entirely new agreements and the renewal of expired agreements.
My noble friend Lord Vaizey asked some very particular questions, including about the imposition of obligations on companies to allow others to use their infrastructure. If I may, I will write to my noble friend to clarify those points.
In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked a “blizzard” of questions about diversification. Our diversification strategy was published on 30 November. We were very clear in it that we seek to create a much healthier supply market that is open, flexible and diverse. We have backed that initially with £250 million of investment. In relation to the noble Lord’s other points, I hope I may write to him.
Amendment 2 agreed.
My Lords, as noble Lords will be aware, this piece of legislation, though short in length, has taken many months to reach this stage and has sparked impassioned debate from all sides of this House. It is a Bill that will benefit huge numbers of people, and I appreciate the dedication with which your Lordships have scrutinised it. Our debate and your Lordships’ questioning have exposed important global issues, particularly in relation to human rights, and no one watching the passage of this Bill could doubt the rigour of your Lordships’ scrutiny.
I am particularly grateful for the openness and co-operation shown by Members on the Front Benches opposite: the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson, Lord Livermore, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox. I must of course mention the noble Lord, Lord Alton, from whom I have learned much in our conversations during the passage of the Bill. He has shone a light on some terrible human rights abuses. I also thank his co-signatories: my noble friend Lord Forsyth, the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
I will take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on his appointment to your Lordships’ Communications and Digital Committee. I thank him for his generous advice behind the scenes and his friendly challenge in the Chamber. I will miss seeing him opposite me, virtually or physically, but look forward to working with his successor.
I am pleased with the shape in which the Bill leaves the House. Once it comes into force, it will ensure that those living in apartments and blocks of flats are supported in accessing fast, reliable and resilient connectivity. I do not need to remind your Lordships how important that is.
Finally, I take the opportunity to thank the Bill team and officials across government who have worked tirelessly and very patiently with this Minister to deliver this important piece of policy. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her kind words. We have enjoyed working with her over this period. The Bill has been an exemplary one in terms of making sure that the House is able to do its job and that the processes necessary to make it fit for legislation once it leaves Parliament are carried out in the best way. That can be done only if there is a spirit of mutual support and trust, and we certainly had that.
I actually took this Bill over at a relatively late stage. Most of the heavy lifting was done initially by my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, and the show was kept on the road by Dan Stevens, our legislative assistant, whose skills and expertise I have drawn on mercilessly. I join the Minister in thanking members of the Bill team, who made themselves very much available and answered our detailed questions in the private meetings that we had.
This is a small but important Bill. As the Minister said, it will affect a lot of people; it will make their lives better and give them access to what has become a utility necessary for modern living. It has been scrutinised carefully in this House, and I am confident that it will play a part in helping to achieve a gigabit-enabled economy across the whole country—something that we need as soon as possible. There remains a lot to do, as we picked up today, but it is good to hear that the consultations on the remaining issues are taking place, particularly on the rollout of 5G and the development of fibre to the home. I urge the department to up its game on this and on a number of other issues that we talked about, and I will be watching from the sidelines.
My Lords, I doubt very much whether the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, could ever possibly watch from the sidelines—but that is an aside.
After an unusually long gap between Report and Third Reading, we are sending the Bill back to the Commons in much better shape than when it arrived. It is still, however, a modest Bill with much to be modest about, to coin a phrase. We on these Benches have never thought that it was adequate in itself to deliver the ambition of one-gigabit-per-second broadband capability by 2025, and of course the goalposts themselves have now been moved by the Government. However, we now have the consultation on changes to the Electronic Communications Code, which is a step forward. I do hope that the Government will see the wisdom of retaining the review mechanism of the code in Clause 3, which the House inserted on Report, which can assess after that what other measures might be needed. We on these Benches will continue to press the Government on their electoral promises.
We also stressed during the passage of the Bill that we would like to see broadband treated as a utility, as with gas, water and electricity, with all the necessary and equivalent rights of entry. The last year could not have demonstrated more graphically the essential nature of good broadband to all our lives, alongside, if not ahead of, all those other utilities. We on these Benches advocate strongly for the universal service obligation to be raised to 25 or 30 megabits per second—that is, superfast levels—which should be treated as the minimum for these rural areas.
That said, I thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, together with her Bill team, as ever, for their very good nature. I also thank her for her kind words, good nature and patience with us all throughout the Bill and for her willingness to listen, even if she did not always accept our arguments. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for his collaboration and co-operation during the course of the Bill, which showed how we always achieve better results by cross-party working.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising some extremely important questions with reference to human rights abuses and modern slavery. His campaigning has clearly changed the Government’s approach and, despite what the Minister has said, it might become even more relevant in the context of the Telecommunications (Security) Bill, which, as we have heard, will come to this House shortly. Of course, the acid test will come next Tuesday on the Trade Bill ping-pong. This is of great significance in terms of the relationship between human rights and trade as a whole. Like him and many other noble Lords, I urge the Government to reconsider their position ahead of that vote.
Lastly, I thank Sarah Pughe in our whips’ office for her valuable help, and my noble friends Lord Fox and Lady Northover, who have contributed so knowledgeably throughout on different aspects of the Bill that they have given me a very easy run when leading on it.
My Lords, it is a privilege to make the concluding speech for the Cross Benches on this Bill today. I place on record our thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, and the Bill team, who have been so ready to engage with our concerns, albeit to limited avail in the end.
It was the late Robin Cook who, as Foreign Secretary, first set out a framework for the UK to have an ethical foreign policy in 1997. Given where the UK is now—debating sanctions only an hour ago against Russia in defence of human rights and democracy, standing up for the rights of people in Hong Kong and shortly to be in the process of discussing the National Security and Investment Bill—I think he would have been pleased with the progress made in the intervening period, not least with our efforts to prevent Chinese commercial enterprises, under the control of that country’s national security laws, from participating in egregious human rights violations and cashing in their profits in this country.
I first spoke to my amendment preventing firms that are a security threat operating our critical national infrastructure on 19 May 2020 in Committee on this Bill. In the intervening eight months and numerous debates, it was never my intention—and I think I speak for all other noble Lords who have led this charge; the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Forsyth and Lord Adonis, joined by the Front-Bench speakers of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party—to prevent the necessary tools needed to roll out broadband to those who need it. Our concerns were well grounded and have, regrettably, come to pass as more information on the treatment of Chinese Uighurs comes to light.
It is also the co-operation between the House of Lords and the other place, so ably led by my noble friend Lord Alton, on these numerous amendments that has allowed us to help the Government to think through where the balance lies in relation to commerce and complicity in human rights abuses that has helped us reach this place today with our amendments. It is now for the other place to decide where that balance lies. I wish the Bill well.