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Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill

Volume 824: debated on Wednesday 19 October 2022

Third Reading

My Lords, I have it in command from His Majesty the King to acquaint the House that His Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill, has consented to place his interest, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Motion

Moved by

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I thank noble Lords on all Benches—noble friends behind me and noble Lords across the House—for their co-operation on this Bill. We saw it as vital for the UK to remain at the forefront of the global economy. It is important that we see fast, reliable but secure connections, for they are the cornerstone of a modern, thriving knowledge economy and society.

It is important that families, communities and individuals as well as state and non-state organisations have reliable tech that works in every part of the country, however remote. That is why the Government have made huge investments in digital infrastructure and have ambitions to become a global cyber power.

We have spent £5 billion on Project Gigabit to get lightning-fast, reliable broadband to hard-to-reach places, and legislated to address absent or unresponsive landowners holding up the deployment of gigabit-capable broadband in blocks of flats. It is also why the Government have a £2.6 billion National Cyber Strategy to protect and promote the UK. This year, we completed a consultation on new laws to strengthen UK cyber resilience.

However, we want to do more; we want to go even further and tackle the challenge that the country is facing. Throughout this Bill’s passage, Ministers and officials have listened carefully to industry, to noble Lords and to the other place, to address concerns and improve the legislation.

We included updates to give telecoms operators further rights in respect of telegraph poles, supporting the delivery of gigabit-capable broadband. We listened carefully to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee to subject the provisions in Part 1 of the Bill to appropriate scrutiny. The product security provisions have been backed by industry, and other countries are following suit. As a global leader in the cybersecurity landscape, this Bill is the first domestic legislation in the world to establish a framework that will introduce security requirements for these products. We now have a Bill that is equipped to deal with the changing landscape of cybersecurity as new threats emerge and evolve in future years. Once it comes into force, the measures in it will improve connectivity and resilience against cyberattacks in the UK.

Let me end by once again thanking noble Lords and Members in the other place for their contributions. I thank the Front Benches and my noble friends here for their wisdom and commitment. I thank noble Lords across the House and the parliamentary clerks, without whom we would not be attending this debate today. I should also pay tribute to my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay—I say “I should” but I want to—for so expertly taking the Bill through Committee stage in this House.

I also hope all noble Lords will join me in thanking the Bill team for their engagement, in particular Lindsey Cox, Colum McGuire and Anna Kerby. I thank Thomas Stukings and Poppy Woodcock in my private office—they wrote the speech, not me. They deserve praise. I also thank everyone in the policy and legal teams who worked tirelessly to get this Bill to where it is. Before I break into an Oscar awards-type speech, I also recognise that there may be a need for further conversations on one or two issues. I reassure noble Lords that I remain open to further meetings with them to deliver this important legislation.

My Lords, on the face of it, this Bill might have looked purely technical, but it will affect the day-to-day lives of millions up and down the country. It improves security for smart devices—products which are now second nature to so many of us. We know there will be regulations to follow and that the devil will be in the detail; we look forward to examining that detail. The Bill will also assist the installation of infrastructure and support greater connectivity, whether through wired broadband or wireless 5G networks.

From these Benches, I thank the ministerial team, who have been courteous, professional and ever willing to engage in meetings and discussions. To refer to the ministerial team of three on this occasion, I would like to say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, who cut his DCMS teeth on this Bill. My thanks also go to the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, who recently joined the Government Front Bench, and the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, who bought his Home Office experience to bear. I also associate with myself with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, in expressing my particular thanks to the former Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson.

From these Benches, we are also grateful to the Bill team, the ministerial office team, the clerks, the staff of the House—indeed, all those who worked front of house as well as behind the scenes to make this Bill possible. As ever, it has been my pleasure to work with my noble friend Lord Bassam, who has brought his valuable experience and knowledge to bear. We were very fortunate to have the highly professional support of Dan Stevens, our excellent adviser who has guided and advised us throughout, to whom we express our thanks. Of course, my thanks are also due to all noble Peers who have worked in a cross-party and constructive fashion on this Bill.

I am very glad that the Government listened to a number of noble Lords regarding the delegated powers in the Bill, and that a particular amendment was brought forward to enhance operators’ rights in respect of telegraph poles. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, for her work on this issue.

Finally, I hope that the Minister will recognise that the amendment passed by your Lordships’ House, which requires an independent review of the Electronic Communications Code, offers a sensible and important way forward on a number of outstanding and key issues, including access to multiple-dwelling units and land valuation. These matters need resolution, and I therefore hope that the Government will take this amendment seriously ahead of the Bill’s return to the other place.

My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, and their team, and of course to the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson. I would describe him as “urbane”— I can flatter him now that he is no longer a Minister.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on the Labour Front Bench for making common cause on so many issues, and quite a number of Cross-Benchers and Conservative Back-Benchers who have played such a prominent role in trying to improve the Bill with their expertise alongside external organisations—such as Which?, Protect and Connect, ISPA and CityFibre—which have been so helpful in their briefings. However, my particular thanks are due to my fellow in arms, my noble friend Lord Fox—who has borne at least half the burden of this Bill with me and was described rightly in Committee as a “supersub” by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam—and, very importantly, to the very expert Sarah Pughe in our whips’ office. I thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, for his efforts; this was his first DCMS Bill, but I am sure it will get worse.

I am pleased that the Government have made some concessions and given assurances during the course of the Bill, particularly about the regulations to follow. However, on the central aspects of not specifying enough in primary legislation in terms of security requirements for IoT devices and the retention of unfair valuation and ADR provisions, the Bill is ultimately disappointing. I hope that the Minister will ensure that the review mechanism is retained and does not return to this House.

In general, the objectives on all sides of the House are not very different, but I must say that the Government’s one gigabit strategy really has seemed to mutate throughout the course of this Bill, so I do not believe that there is a great deal of clarity yet on when the Government’s strategy is actually going to be accomplished. In general, as regards retaining the review mechanism, a little willingness to accept this might earn this Government just a few, badly needed friends out there—they might find that quite useful at the current time.

My Lords, first, I apologise for my unavoidable absence at Report last week, but I add my belated welcome to the Minister on his appointment and thank him for writing today, as well as my appreciation to his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson. On product security, I certainly wish this Bill well. I am somewhat less enthusiastic about its telecommunications infrastructure measures, particularly on the matter of valuation.

I express my thanks to the clerks and the wonderful co-ordination run from the Liberal Democrat offices. I thank colleagues who spoke in favour of the valuation amendments that I tabled at earlier stages, particularly the noble Earl, Lord Devon, who cannot be here today, and the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, who I am glad to see is in his place. I also thank noble Lords across the House—I am extremely grateful, particularly for the Labour amendment of last Wednesday, so ably pressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, which really remains the only man standing on the measures that might ultimately address market concerns on telecoms sites. I thank the noble Baroness warmly for that and pledge my support going forward. I pay tribute to the CLA, of which I am a member, the NFU, and other bodies such as Protect and Connect, which we have heard about, for their support and persistence.

Whatever the economic and political rationale, impressions matter and govern transaction analysis—and market confidence also, as we have seen recently in grand style. So I regret that, despite the Minister’s letter of today, a reasoned justification and clear evidence for further interventions into landlord and tenant practice are not apparent to me, especially looking at contractual terms beyond rent. Although as a property practitioner and fellow of the RICS, I believe that these measures are in that sense regrettable, divisive, avoidable and likely to cause the supply of mast sites to shrivel, I appreciate that the Minister demurs and disputes the evidence that has been put forward of lessor reticence, increased legal disputes and slower market process. So we will just have to see. Site providers in the market, their advisers and so on will have to take note, and they may become increasingly wary, not only for what this means in terms of mast rentals but for the wider implications for property rights going forward.

I rise briefly to support the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and to thank him and his Cross-Bench colleagues, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, for the Cross-Bench support that we have enjoyed, together with that from the opposition Benches. My noble friend Lord Northbrook has also fought a valiant fight.

I thought it important from these Benches to place my regret that the 2017 electronic communications code has been harsher in its effects than had previously been anticipated. This was an opportunity to review that. So, while I did not support the Labour Front-Bench amendment, this is a good opportunity next door to consider whether there is cause, as I believe there is, to review the legislation at this stage.

I regret the imbalance in relationship that the Bill will expedite between the operators and landowners, many of whom are not private landlords but are sports clubs and others that will find the loss of income quite substantial and very difficult to replace at this time, in particular with the cost of living crisis and the inflation that we have seen. I regret that the alternative dispute resolution mechanism will not be mandatory; perhaps that is something the Government might like to consider when they look at this next door.

I will end on a local note. This is something that potentially could impact very positively in north Yorkshire. However, there are two issues that the Minister may not be aware of, as he is relatively new to this brief. One is that there are a number of existing masts owned by a specific telecoms operator that have not been operational. You have to ask the question, since the permissions have been given and the masts are in place, why on earth are they not being operated, in a place with one of the poorest levels of connectivity in the country. The other is looking at alternatives such as piggybacking on the back of the telecommunications masts that were put in place at public expense for the North Yorkshire Police service. I can see absolutely no reason why we cannot piggyback on the back of those.

With those few words, I wish the Bill well, particularly its Part 1—we will gloss over some of the later parts—as it proceeds in its passage through Parliament.

My Lords, I apologise as, in my quest to be concise, I did not name specific noble Lords and I think it is right that I do that. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for their warm welcome. Indeed, it is a re-welcome from the noble Baroness, Lady Merron; many noble Lords will know that she and I have worked together before—we are inextricably linked. I also thank their adviser, Dan Stevens. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox, and of course their adviser, Sarah Pughe. We take the credit for it, but these advisers work incredibly hard.

I acknowledge the continuing concerns of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and of other noble Lords who spoke on this issue. As I have said, I remain open to further meetings and am very happy to discuss these things. I commend the Bill to the House.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.