I remind Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new call list system and to ensure that social distancing can be respected. Members should sanitise their microphones using the cleaning materials provided before they use them, and should dispose of the materials as they leave the room. Members are also asked to respect the one-way system around the room. They should speak only from the horseshoe—although it does not look like that will be a problem for our debate today. Members are not expected to remain for wind-ups. There is less expectation for them to stay for the next two speeches once they have spoken. That is to help to manage attendance in the room. Members may wish to stay beyond their speech but should be aware that, in doing so, they might prevent Members in the seats in the Public Gallery from moving to seats in the horseshoe. Again, I do not think that will impinge on our concern this afternoon.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered business and economic opportunities after Huawei’s exclusion from the 5G network.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Eagle. I am grateful to the Members present for their interest; I am sure that there will be cross-party support for my objective. I want to use the UK’s excellence in areas of new technology as an opportunity to help to grow the UK economy and to support the Government’s levelling-up agenda across the UK.
Some time has passed since the decision was taken to exclude Huawei from the UK’s 5G network. Governments around the world faced challenges over Huawei’s dominance in this field. Concerns around security contradicted the will or demand to roll out the technology as quickly as possible. A tension between the two was created. We all know the difficult decision that the Government took to exclude Huawei’s influence, and we look forward to the Telecommunications (Security) Bill, which will be presented shortly.
Alternative providers need to be found and developed, and that is an opportunity for the UK to step up in specific areas. As a free marketeer, my instinct is to let the market decide, and that remains true, but with the UK having considerable expertise in the field, the Government can play an active part in setting the direction, creating the parameters and providing the greatest certainty to allow for private investment, particularly in the fields where as a nation we are in a leading position. Announcements on open standards such as Open RAN—radio access network—highlight that the Government understand that, and their focus should be recognised. It will diversify the market, improve resilience and innovation and facilitate the UK to play a leading position in a field recently dominated by the Chinese.
The reach and influence of 5G technology will extend much further than previous generations of communication. Its capacity to carry much larger volumes of data at very high speeds means that our connected lives will be taken to a new plane, from the internet of things to connected vehicles and smart cities, and many more areas that we have not even thought of yet.
There are several fundamental elements needed to achieve that, including a range of areas, such as radio frequency and satellite communications, 5G and base station capabilities, backhaul technologies and cyber-resilient networks among others. I highlight those elements, because I believe the UK already has specific expertise there, which can be developed further, as I will comment on later. All of them come together using compound semiconductors. These very high capacity chips enable more data to be managed effectively.
It was once described to me that if a silicon chip is a country lane, a compound semiconductor is a great big highway. That encapsulates the opportunity and possibilities 5G will create. Interestingly, they also minimise energy consumption and will play a big part in our net zero target. It is with great pleasure that I can say that the world’s first cluster of compound semiconductor technology is in south Wales, developed from companies such as IQE, SPTS Technologies and Newport Wafer Fab. Many others have followed since. All are supported by the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult.
I want to pay particular tribute to the work of Dr Andy Sellars from the Catapult, who first sparked my interest in this field when I was the Secretary of State. Government investment has been significant through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, UK Research and Innovation and the Cardiff capital region city deal. It was a privilege to play an active part in supporting the projects and to see Swansea University and Cardiff University research play its part, along with other universities from Bristol to Cambridge and many more. I also had to ensure that the Department for International Trade was also aware of their expertise. It was good to see Andy Sellars in a prominent position at the GREAT Festival of Innovation in Hong Kong, highlighting the possibilities and seeking to attract interest and investment globally. It was an extremely impressive show, as recognised by everyone. It was a privilege to be there to see it in action.
The fundamental elements I have highlighted, however, are also areas where the UK has specific expertise that can be developed with an appropriate framework. The high-speed radiofrequency technology along with satellite communications needed to maximise coverage is one example. The UK’s investment in OneWeb shows that the Government understand the opportunity. There is also a cluster of complementary technology companies in the north east, such as VIPER RF, Diamond Microwave and aXenic. These are all supported by the Satellite Applications Catapult in the region. Elsewhere in the UK, iconicRF has a very strong reputation internationally.
I pay tribute to the Minister for his active interest in this area, which has given a lot of support to the industry and encouraged further investment, but there is more to do. As part of the network improvements, there will be a need to upgrade base stations with the specific need to develop small cell technology. Blu Wireless in Bristol is an example of the UK’s expertise that also benefits from the compound semiconductor cluster that I have already referred to, which also forms part of the western gateway region. Also in the western gateway economic region lies the UK’s strength in cyber-resilience, including Airbus, Thales, GCHQ and Bristol University’s quantum optical network strength, among others.
Another essential element is backhaul, which takes data from the cellular base stations and feeds into the network. The introduction of 5G applications will mean a need to develop from its strength beyond 400 gigabits per second. Filtronic in Durham and Cambridge Broadband Networks are forerunners in this area, too. The final piece of the jigsaw is test and validation. This is critical to guarantee the interoperability between the vital elements that I have already referred to. The world’s leading test and validation company, Spirent, has its headquarters in the UK. It also operates in the United States. Bringing all those together highlights our expertise in discrete areas of 5G apparatus—a technology and infrastructure project for which demand will grow exponentially. We have an opportunity to develop a plan to ensure that those companies and others are well positioned to benefit from that opportunity, but how do we do that?
There are examples of support across Government, such as for the automotive sector, that offer a model of how to engage with the industry to develop the necessary clusters of consortia. For example, the Advanced Propulsion Centre plays a role in facilitating the shift to electric vehicles. Its modest budget has attracted significant private sector investment in the field. In one case, the APC supports a consortium of 13 companies that work with the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult in south-east Wales, to which I have already referred, to create the UK semiconductor supply chain to power McLaren’s electric sports car.
On the back of that project, further consortia have been formed with BMW and Mini to benefit from UK technology. In total, the catapult is working on approximately £100 million-worth of projects, 50% of which have been funded by the private sector. I suspect that the private sector proportion will continue to grow because of the cluster of excellence that has been created.
Another model, in a different field, is the ventilator challenge that the Government set up in response to covid-19 to encourage manufacturers to innovate to meet the global shortages of ventilators. A consortia of companies brought together by the High Value Manufacturing Catapult built more than 15,000 ventilators, which represents five years of production, in just three months. That was pulled together in the national interest and would not have happened if the Government had not played a facilitating role.
A third example is the development of energy generation projects, which have received similar support. The certainty that the Government gave to offshore wind energy installation has allowed the UK to dominate the engineering field in that sector. Similarly, the commitment to small modular nuclear reactors is leading to a world-first in the UK that has the potential to be a major export. Again, I pay tribute to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the DIT and the Wales Office, when I had a personal interest in it, because Wales has a strong presence in the opportunity.
The Minister will be pleased that I am not calling for a new agency or for identical models to be used, but I am asking for the same principles to be applied that were established for electric vehicles, ventilators, offshore wind and SMRs to prompt further investment from the private sector. The Government have a part to play in providing certainty on policy. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is playing a significant part, but it also needs to act as a facilitator to bring some of those excellent companies together and to work with BEIS because of the cross-departmental agenda.
I also gently say to the Minister, and other hon. Members, that not all Government Departments are as joined-up as we would like them to be. Sometimes there needs to be an able Minister with a great pedigree who has the opportunity to bring people together, such as the Minister before us. The market potential is significant and would be a welcome boost to many parts of the United Kingdom.
Companies have a part to play too. If I have any criticism of them, it is that they do not shout loud enough about their expertise or their potential. I deliberately stated where most of those companies are based, because their siting is relevant to the Government’s levelling-up agenda. The western gateway that I referred to is sited in some of the most deprived parts of the UK, but there is the excellence in that region to bring together complementary expertise that does not exist anywhere else in the world. Similarly, the north-east has a leading position in radio frequency and satellite technology, as I have highlighted, and we all know about the Government’s ambitions to grow the economy in that part of the country.
The Government’s decision on Huawei could be a pivot to develop our expertise further and to scale up research in manufacturing, which would lead to a major increase in UK components for our 5G network and a huge export market. At the same time, that would remove the security risks that many hon. Members were concerned about. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Eagle.
In this interconnected world, we are all utterly reliant on telecom services and digital infrastructure. It not only ensures that we can communicate with one another; it allows businesses to operate and provides people with new ways to socially interact—increasingly crucial during this pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.
There are no absolutes in cyber-security; it is not a binary subject. We can never envisage an entirely secure system. During the covid-19 pandemic, cyber and digital security have become ever more important. There is a growing mountain of evidence that hostile actors have used the pandemic as an opportunity to carry out malicious cyber-activity. The pandemic has revealed the importance of ensuring that our digital infrastructure and telecoms services are as secure as possible.
It is precisely for this reason that I strongly commend Her Majesty’s Government’s decision to remove Huawei entirely from the UK’s 5G network by the end of 2027. The Foreign Secretary has already outlined concerns with Chinese involvement in our networks and that China is worryingly engaged in pernicious cyber-attacks against our commercial, academic and—even during this pandemic—medical institutions.
China, or more precisely the Chinese Communist party, is irrefutably a threat to our cyber infrastructure. Huawei is, in effect, a state-owned structure under the control of the Chinese Communist party. The company’s trade union committee is registered with and pays dues to the Shenzhen Federation, an all-China federation of trade unions, which in turn is controlled by the CCP.
Through a combination of a prolonged poverty of western strategic thinking and Chinese Communist party subsidies, intellectual property theft and entering low-income markets with low-cost products, Huawei has become a market leader in 5G. To some, Huawei’s exclusion may well be seen as a risk. However, in reality, it provides the United Kingdom with numerous opportunities—and benefits—to build a safe and secure 5G network.
As stated, Huawei, like every major Chinese firm, is not truly independent of the Chinese state. The very real risk of this is the Chinese Communist party utilising Huawei’s infrastructure to access, spy upon, disrupt and even sabotage critical UK interests via our communications, which would undermine the security of our allies and ourselves.
Secondly, the strength and durability of Huawei’s systems are questionable. While Huawei has gained success with low-cost products, its ability to withstand cyber-attacks is questionable. The BBC’s security correspondent, Gordon Corera, reported that UK security services have been highly critical of the company’s engineering standards. The UK must seize this opportunity and pave its own path in developing and maintaining its 5G network with minimal interference from Huawei and its communist overlords.
The benefits of using British cyber and telecommunications companies should not be underestimated, boosting the success of our firms and simultaneously providing a strong foundation for our digital economy. Naturally, this does not only have to include British firms. Companies such as Japan’s NEC Corporation or South Korea’s Samsung could also be brought in to assist in creating the UK’s 5G network. Our close trading relationship with Japan and the signing of the UK-Japan free trade deal only weeks ago mean that such partnerships would make commercial, political and economic sense. While Huawei does present a cheap and quick option to create a 5G network in the UK, it would forever be compromised by the Chinese Communist party while, additionally, further denying opportunities for UK businesses and wider economy. The economic, commercial and political case for Huawei’s exclusion is overwhelming.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Eagle. It is important to congratulate the right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) on bringing forward this debate. It is clearly a matter that he knows a significant amount about, and he spoke incredibly passionately, particularly about what could be achieved in and around Wales and the north-east. In silicon chips and, I think, semiconductors, he used turns of phrase that I had not heard before. He certainly educated me in that regard, which I will definitely take away from this debate, if nothing else. I am sure that my dad, an engineer, will be delighted about that. He spent many years trying to educate me on these things when I was younger, to no success whatsoever. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) raised some incredibly important matters, which I will come to in due course.
First, on interconnectivity, we have all been particularly reliant on the ability to contact people virtually during the pandemic, and a great deal of this House at this moment in time operates virtually, albeit not enough. This has shown us the reliance that we now have on technology. We should be willing to embrace the further betterment of technology, be that with 5G or otherwise, to improve all our standards of living.
I was quite surprised by the number of people here to talk about Huawei, because it is usually a matter that garners much attention, particularly in the Chamber, but there we are none the less. The points raised were incredibly important. The best way to sum them up is the fact that it was a particularly sorry episode for the Government. The to-ing and fro-ing that took place was not necessary, particularly when we were all aware that Huawei was deemed to be a high-risk vendor. I am sure that, if the Government had their time back, they would probably do things differently. That is one of the pitfalls of government, I suppose. I see a wry smile on the Minister’s face.
Obviously, the debate relates to the potential of 5G, particularly for business. That potential is enormous, be that for health, transport or climate change. We are not talking only about better connectivity on our mobile phones, as some may believe. I will briefly reflect on climate change. There are two sides to that debate. There are those who believe that 5G working in the manner in which it should will ultimately increase energy usage, because we will do more and see more much more quickly. On the contrary, we can also seek to combat climate change by doing things in a more efficient and effective manner, a goal that we all must aim for, particularly when looking at 5G moving forward and how we can tie that into the climate change challenges that face us in Scotland, the UK or across the globe. That should really be at the heart of most of the things that we seek to do going forward.
Ultimately, when it comes to 5G, telecommunications is a reserved matter. I wish, like all policy matters, that it sat in the remit of the Scottish Parliament. We have not quite reached that stage yet—“yet” being the operative word—but we will get there. [Interruption.] I hear some sniggering at the back, but we will get there. However, until that moment, telecommunications is reserved, and from Scotland’s perspective we are very much at the behest of the UK Government and the avenues that they seek to go down.
As the UK Government progress with this matter, it is incredibly important that we take into account the specific geography of Scotland. As the Minister’s parliamentary private secretary, the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), will be acutely aware, 42% of Scotland does not even have access to 4G. On my way to the Aberdeen airport today, I lost 5G signal on numerous occasions while going round the city—although not when going through the city; I believe that there is some 5G enablement within the city. We need to be mindful of the geographical challenges across the entire UK as we move forward with this matter.
It is important that investment—be it from the Government or the private sector—seeks to benefit everyone and that nobody misses out. Climate change will be key, but those rural communities across Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom must also get the connectivity that they so badly deserve. Ultimately, while we need to ensure that nobody misses out, we also need to make sure that security and resilience are at the forefront of everything that we do when it comes to 5G and ensuring better interconnectivity within Scotland and the UK.
It is a great pleasure to be here to serve under your chairship for the first time, Ms Eagle. I thank the right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) for securing this really important debate, and it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to talk about such an important subject. I am very grateful to him for that, and for his opening comments: rarely have I heard a speech from the opposing ranks with which I agreed so fully, and almost entirely. I appreciate his comments about the importance of 5G and its opportunities; I also appreciated his reference to Dr Andy Sellars, who is making important advances in this area, and his comments on photonics in the north-east of England. There has always been closeness between the north-east and Wales, and leading in the diversification of the telecoms supply chain would simply be another example of that.
I should also declare an interest: as some Members may know, I worked as a telecoms engineer for 23 years before coming into Parliament, and my very first job was with a telecoms equipment supplier called Nortel—Northern Telecom—who, when I joined it, had just bought one of the last two British telecoms suppliers, that being STC; Marconi stayed around a little bit longer. It is a real shame that having worked for Nortel, and having spent my entire career in telecoms, I never went on to work for a British telecoms supplier. That was a consequence of the industrial strategies pursued under the then Government, Thatcher’s Conservative Government, and under the current Conservative Government, with not enough having been done in the intervening Labour years.
I agree with both the right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan and the hon. Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) in their characterisation of the opportunities presented by 5G, which we hope can transform and bring broadband to every corner of our country—which is so much lacking now—and allow us to have real on-the-go mobile broadband, together with the opportunities presented by the internet of things and the vast increase in connected devices that we will see. That is why it is such a shame that the Government find themselves in such a 5G mess. I understand that they are happy to pass the cost of their mistakes, indecision and poor planning on to the operators, stating, for example, that the costs of removing Huawei are
“commercial decisions that are for the mobile operators to make”—
costs that the sector worries could top £7 billion and cause delays of up to three years to 5G roll-out, harming growth and innovation. We should not accept such a delay, which harms UK productivity and sends a message to innovators that they should look elsewhere. Can the Minister confirm that there will be no delay to the target of rolling out 5G to the majority of the country by 2027?
The right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan and the hon. Member for Wakefield were right to emphasise the opportunities of an effective diversification strategy. I have put many questions to the Minister on this point, and he has confirmed that the Government plan to prioritise open source and Open RAN technologies, which the right hon. Member mentioned, as part of their plan to build market resilience. However, we still lack any clear strategy for the diversification of our telecoms infrastructure. Yes, we have the names of those on the telecoms taskforce, but no telecoms systems developers are among them. The Minister said that was because the focus was on cyber-security; I should say that while we are taking steps to hopefully secure our network, we need a network that is innovative, effective and resilient as well as secure. The absence of any telecoms systems developers on the telecoms taskforce is a real loss, as is the lack of any representation for any organisation or person from north of Bristol. Can the Minister set out how he intends to ensure that we have a truly representative task force, able to make use of the talents and innovation throughout the relevant sectors and throughout the country?
The Telecommunications (Security) Bill was published this afternoon. I have not had time to assess all its clauses in full, but it does not seem to refer to the diversification strategy that we are promised. The official Opposition welcome the measures taken to secure our network, but without the diversification strategy, our network will not be secure because we will be so dependent on perhaps two vendors. We have to have a diversification strategy, not only to ensure the opportunities in different sectors and different parts of our country in terms of economic development, but to make that network secure. Where is the diversification strategy? How can we have a Bill that does one thing, which is to secure the network, that is so dependent on a strategy that does not appear to be mentioned?
I turn to the opportunities in Open RAN defence and international collaboration. I thank the right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan for the explanation of Open RAN. The market is estimated to be worth £47 billion by 2026 and the UK can gain a significant amount of that if we build on our existing strengths, such as compound semiconductors, radios and software for disaggregated networks.
The decision to remove Huawei from the network was based on national security, exhibiting one of the many synergies between telecoms and defence, with many UK companies supplying both the telecoms and defence markets. For example, semiconductor fabricators II-VI, a north-east company based in County Durham, or INEX Microtechnology, in Sedgefield, provide critical infrastructure to both the telecoms and defence markets.
We will see immediate action from operators to replace high-risk vendors and a long-term replacement strategy in UK 5G infrastructure, opening doors for businesses. Japanese firms such as NEC, which the hon. Member for Wakefield mentioned, have already agreed to set up a UK telecommunications centre to help provide immediate alternatives to high-risk vendors, providing NEC with a springboard into the European market. This is a good opportunity for many smaller UK firms, but it cannot be a one-off. What is the Government’s strategy to ensure that UK firms can forge strong partnerships with international firms?
It takes investment as well as strategic vision to diversify our supply chain after so many years. I am afraid that both of those seem to be sadly lacking. Will the Minister take the chance to tell us today how much additional funding the Government will provide for telecoms research, development and innovation? At the same time, can he say how much will be going to the north?
We have excellent science-based and technological opportunities to be found. Indeed, in March, as a constructive Opposition, I offered the Minister a five-point plan to help diversify our supply chain. I called for a communications Catapult centre, and for next-generation research and development projects. BT used to have a major lab, developing and looking far ahead at new telecommunications technology. Is the Minister considering something like that? Can he give us more details? I also called for support for standards development, to support interoperability. We have heard nothing about that. He needs to look at non-5G wireless technologies. What is the Minister doing to support those in all the regions of the UK?
The UK has an opportunity to build a highly resilient, secure and diversified 5G network, unlocking opportunities for business and innovation across the country. Further- more, when we think about the next generations—6G and 7G—the UK has the opportunity to lay the foundations to make us a leading telecommunications country once again. Let us remember that we invented both fibre and the web in the UK. I urge the Minister to obtain the political will and set out the plan that ensures our diverse telecoms sector has the confidence and the investment that it needs to grow and to lead the world.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Eagle. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) for securing a debate on a genuinely important topic, which would have perhaps attracted a significantly bigger crowd on other days—I take that as a sign that the Government are going in the right direction in lots of ways. It is none the less a critical topic for the Government, and it has been my focus for the last few months, to say the least.
I begin by paying tribute to the work of the Catapult and Dr Andy Sellars, already mentioned by my right hon. Friend and others. It is a £43.5 million Government project supported by UKRI, and it is important to say that £12 million from the Welsh Government is an important contribution. Some 1,500 people are already employed as part of the project and, as my right hon. Friend said, we expect thousands more to come as part of that investment. It is as though he read some of my speech, because he mentioned that we are already seeing clusters forming from the clusters. The close collaboration with the private sector in the north-east, Cambridge, Bristol and elsewhere shows that Britain is beginning to take the opportunity by the horns and make the best of it that we can. We do that in collaboration with our other international partners, but ultimately the opportunity is due to a wealth of expertise in this country, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) highlighted. That private sector collaboration will only continue to grow.
As my right hon. Friend highlighted, we have plenty more work to do. One of the things that we will seek to do through our diversification strategy is to shape the market and set the direction in a way that works genuinely with our private sector partners, because he is right to say that although there is much that we should leave to the market, we have to work collaboratively in the interests of national security, and we have to do it in way that ensures that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. Ultimately, we are in the position that we are in with Huawei because of decades of wrong decisions, albeit with the best intentions.
My right hon. Friend also observed that not every Government project is as joined up as it could be. I can tell him that the diversification strategy will be one of the most joined-up Government projects he has yet seen—I do not know where that sets the bar in his expectations.
I am glad that we are having the debate, but I rather wish we were having it at this time tomorrow, because I will be able to say significantly more after the Chancellor has made his statement. To some extent, that will also tie in with the diversification strategy. As the Secretary of State has said, we will publish the diversification strategy alongside the Bill that so many colleagues have referred to. As the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central knows, we have published the Bill today, so she will not have to wait long for her salvation. She mentioned the international angle, the need to put money behind it, the need to focus on standards and the need to focus on a specific institution, if not specifically a lab. In some form or another, those things will all be of great interest to her when she reads the diversification strategy, which she will be able to do in due course.
I appreciate the Minister’s comments and look forward, as always, to the publication of the Bill. Will the diversification strategy have the same legislative structure, content and meaning as the Telecommunications (Security) Bill? Will it have legislative power that is binding on the Government?
It is a crucial complement to the Bill introduced by us today. We will be putting in place all the right incentives to ensure that the requirements being imposed by us through primary and secondary legislation can be met, or even beaten, within the timescale that we will be laying out. We cannot impose requirements on individual companies to make specific procurement decisions through legislation, but we can make sure that they are as secure as they need to be, and that the programme fits in a way that works for the market and for our national security. I know that the hon. Lady will take a close interest in both the primary and the secondary legislation, which will fill in some of that picture.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan was right to imply that while we are now more dependent as we move away from Huawei, we have an opportunity to work both with the existing incumbents—primarily Nokia and Ericsson—and new incumbents. We are already working towards increasing the presence in our markets of those incumbents and, crucially, towards that Open RAN future of interoperability and far greater opportunities for our companies to thrive.
I underline my point that many of the component businesses to which I referred will have the opportunity to work with Ericsson and Nokia, as well as with other leaders in the field that are alternatives to Huawei, so the UK can play a prominent role even if it is not the headline, first-tier organisation.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the Government have been working as fast as they can on the 5G supply chain diversification strategy, which not only meets our short-term needs but prioritises the bold and ambitious approach that, as we both agree, makes it possible for our companies to make the most of their place in a global market, not just the UK. To reiterate what has already been said, that approach is built around supporting incumbents and attracting new suppliers, and also around accelerating the development and adoption of the Open RAN interoperable standards. They are all major opportunities, both nationally and internationally.
As discussed, the decision taken on high-risk vendors means that the UK is more resilient in respect of Nokia and Ericsson, and although 5G is now available in over 90 towns and cities with the support of those two companies, we need to seize the emerging opportunities to grow that number as rapidly as we can. That is why the Government are looking through a series of R&D interventions of the sort that the catapult has been so pivotal in accelerating.
Of course, we also want to bring new suppliers into the UK market. It is worth saying, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central did, that the presence of the NEC global centre of excellence in the UK is not just an important sign of what is already there, but an important signal of the esteem in which the global supply chain holds the UK’s enthusiasm for adopting 5G.
I will take the opportunity to say that we have no intention whatsoever to delay the 2027 target for the majority of the UK population to be covered by 5G. It is already in 100 towns and cities, and the figure is increasing all the time. I also take the opportunity to point out that the chair of the taskforce mentioned by the hon. Lady, which is expert in both commercial and academic senses, is Lord Livingston of Parkhead. I am sure she knows that Parkhead is a part of Glasgow and is some way north of Bristol, but we are keen to focus on the diversity and expertise of that taskforce. Ultimately, we have prioritised expertise in the taskforce rather than the geographic location. She makes a fair point but, as I say, Glasgow is consistently north of Bristol.
I think we have covered the geography of Glasgow.
We are working to remove the barriers for new market entrants, and the taskforce is a crucial part of that, but our ambition will not stop there. We will be keen to make sure that our global ambitions are a part of the work of both the taskforce and the diversification strategy, and that will persist well beyond the process that we go through with the Telecommunications (Security) Bill and with the diversification strategy.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan noted our existing expertise and mentioned Open RAN, which will be hugely important in future. He will know that Vodafone has already launched a trial in Wales. That is the first, we think, of a significant improvement in the percentage of Open RAN, and we will seek to ensure that that persists. He also mentioned the potential of the low earth orbit satellite and OneWeb. It is important that we are open-minded when it comes to what technologies can be developed both through the Catapult and elsewhere. As the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central said, we should not simply look at 5G when it comes to making sure we connect as much of the country as we possibly can.
I will address the comments made on behalf of the Scottish National party. The hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) is completely right that when we talk about 5G, it is important not to forget that significant parts of the country need a step change in their connectivity. The shared rural network, a £1 billion partnership between the UK Government and the mobile networks, will see 4G connectivity, particularly in Scotland, accelerate rapidly between now and 2025. That is hugely welcome, as he and others in this Chamber are keenly aware. Scotland is challenging geography to wire up, but it is crucial that we do so as rapidly as we can.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) was absolutely right to mention the opportunities for us in this project. We should see the next few years as a crucial opportunity to grow a really important UK market. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central said that she had never had the opportunity to work for a major British telecoms company. I say to her that the night is young.
If we get this right, opportunities will come in Britain and elsewhere. All of this will require investment, and the Government will put forward an initial funding package, to be set out in the spending review tomorrow, along with a boost to the Ofcom budget to reflect its enhanced security role under the Bill that we have laid today. The funding package will drive early progress and ensure that our diversification strategy not only bolsters the resilience and security of our digital infrastructure, but creates opportunities for competition, innovation and prosperity in all four nations. It is a huge opportunity that I hope we will be able to seize rapidly over the next few years, not just in 5G but through the UK’s gigabit programme as well.
This country already benefits hugely from the digital economy. This programme and this debate are part of doing that better. They are part of building back better, and I am confident that we will look back and say that we took a decision about Huawei that improved our national security and drove our ability to seize economic opportunities. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan for securing the debate.
It is a privilege to have the opportunity to respond to a debate in which everyone has been in agreement. I pay tribute to the Minister and the shadow Minister for the healthy banter between them.
We recognise the real economic opportunity in parts of the UK where there are specific economic challenges. This is a great opportunity for the levelling-up agenda and for making great advances in technology in the UK—in the 5G network in the UK and globally. They come together, and the UK can play a prominent part.
I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) for their contributions. They recognise the challenges that the Government have faced and the opportunities ahead of us.
We need to move away from the headline, first-tier organisations, because most of the expertise lies in a diversified supply chain. We have named some of the organisations in the supply chain, but there will be many more that we are not aware of, such as start-ups that have broken through in some of these fields. Ministers in DCMS, BEIS and beyond need to play a facilitating role in responding to the latest emerging technology and in creating a framework where companies can come together to further enhance the research and excellence in the field. They must take this opportunity for the UK to play a prominent part not only through its own network, but in the exports sought by those nations around the world that do not have that base level of excellence and research.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered business and economic opportunities after Huawei’s exclusion from the 5G network.