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Telecommunications (Security) Bill

Volume 815: debated on Tuesday 26 October 2021

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, I thank noble Lords from all sides of the House who have contributed to our debates during the passage of this Bill so far. Although that journey is not complete, their work has certainly helped us to interrogate the Bill and improve it. In particular, I would like to use this opportunity to thank my noble friend Lady Barran, who so expertly guided the Bill up to Committee; I was pleased to hear the tributes and thanks to her on Report a few days ago.

Throughout the passage of the Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, have helpfully challenged the Government’s approach from the Opposition Front Bench. I thank them for the constructive way they have done so and for their diligent approach, along with the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, who have also applied keen-eyed scrutiny throughout the Bill’s passage so far. Although we have not always agreed on the fine detail, it is clear that we all share the same ambition: to keep our telecoms networks secure.

I also thank my noble friends on these Benches, particularly my noble friends Lady Morgan of Coates, Lord Vaizey of Didcot, Lord Holmes of Richmond, Lord Young of Cookham, Lady Stroud, Lord Balfe and Lord Naseby for their contributions. The scrutiny that has been applied has already resulted in legislation that will allow the UK to protect our telecoms networks for years to come. It would be remiss of me not to extend my thanks also to parliamentary counsel for their usual brilliance in drafting the Bill, and to the House authorities for ensuring that the parliamentary stages could take place so seamlessly, including during the challenging circumstances of recent months.

I close by thanking the officials within my department, most of whom have been working on this Bill for well over a year now. Their knowledge, organisation and patience has allowed me, and I hope all noble Lords, to understand and scrutinise with relative ease what is a technical but very important Bill. It is a large Bill team and I make no apology for listing their names; it illustrates the breadth of work that has gone into what is quite a technical Bill. I thank Kathryn Roe, John Peart, Byron Grant, Thea Macdonald, Euan Onslow, Alex Walford, Malcolm Campbell, Dan Tor, Rosemary Buckland, Chris Frampton, Charlotte Carew, Will Jones, Yohance Drayton, and our lawyers, Sean Murray, Martha Hartridge, Simon Gomes, Luke Emmons, Richard Lancaster, May Wong, Harriet Preedy, Julia Clayson, Sean Wilson and Matthew Smith. All of them have supported the passage of this Bill excellently.

As my predecessor said at Second Reading:

“The Bill will … protect our telecoms networks even as technologies grow and evolve, shielding our critical national infrastructure both now and for the future.”—[Official Report, 29/6/21; col. 707.]

I am encouraged that your Lordships’ House agrees that the Bill will achieve this, and I beg to move.

My Lords, this has been my first Bill since I joined your Lordships’ House a little over six months ago. Some would say that I was thrown in at the deep end but in my view, I was simply given the opportunity to swim in rather warm and pleasant parliamentary waters. It has been fascinating and enjoyable and I am very glad that my first Bill has been such an important one for the security of the nation.

The Minister has of course been a constant throughout consideration of this Bill, and we saw his worth recognised as he was promoted from the important role of Whip to the Minister tasked with bringing the Bill home. I thank him for the courteous and professional manner in which he has conducted himself throughout, and I also express my thanks to the former Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran. From these Benches, we also express our gratitude to the Bill team, the clerks, the staff of the House—indeed, all those who have worked front of house as well as behind the scenes to make this Bill possible.

Throughout, it has been my pleasure to work with my noble friend Lord Coaker, who has brought his valuable experience and knowledge to proceedings. We have been blessed to have the highly professional support of Dan Harris, our excellent adviser who has guided and advised us throughout, to whom we express our thanks. Her Majesty’s Opposition strongly believe that our nation’s security is above party politics, and I thank all noble Peers who have worked cross party on this Bill.

New technologies have long transformed how we work, live and, of course, travel. Our experiences during the pandemic have upped the ante on the degree to which we rely on telecommunications networks. At the same time, it has reinforced how intertwined these networks are with issues of national security, including the top priority of any Government: to protect its citizens from risk. This Bill is a necessary step to protect us.

I am very glad to welcome the Government’s acceptance of our arguments that codes of practice, to be issued by the Secretary of State to telecoms providers, must first come before Parliament. However, the Bill raised key questions and concerns, especially given the absence of an effective plan to diversify the supply chain and in respect of our telecom security depending on strengthening our international bonds, in particular through the Five Eyes, involving the UK, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his work on that issue.

I hope that the other place will give sympathetic consideration to the changes we have made on both those matters, and that the Minister will recognise that the amendments passed by your Lordships’ House make serious and important improvements to the Bill and have widespread support across the Chamber. My concluding wish for this Bill is that the Government will reflect and feel able to support these improvements to the Bill and the security they provide.

My Lords, as the Minister said, this Bill entered the other place a year ago. It has variously been urgent, in the long grass, urgent again and now quite close to passing. I will not delay its passage many more seconds. I have shelved my inner churl, but I absolutely sign up to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Merron. There are outstanding issues that your Lordships commented on and put into the Bill as amendments that I hope can be picked up. I hope that when this Bill is finally put to bed, it really does protect the security of this country, and we will work, on these Benches, to help make that happen. There is a lot of unfinished business in this area. I fear that the Minister himself, or one of his successors, may very well be bringing other Bills before your Lordships quite soon.

I thank the Ministers, first the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, and then the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, for their work and their willingness to communicate with those of us who were seeking to scrutinise this Bill. I join the noble Lord in congratulating the DCMS Bill team, and I hope he did not leave anybody out. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on their legislative debuts. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his spirited, highly principled and really important, contributions on the Bill.

Finally, I thank my noble friends Lord Clement-Jones and Lady Northover, without whom this scrutiny would not have been complete, and Sarah Pughe, our legislative officer, for her invaluable support. With that, we wish this Bill onwards, with speed and effectiveness, because it has a very important job to do.

My Lords, before we pass this Bill, may I add to a comment to what the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, said? I express my thanks as well to everyone who was on the long list that the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, gave us, but also to his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran. As Ministers, I do not think they could have been more helpful and more responsive to the points we made both in Committee and on Report.

My noble friend also mentioned the all-party amendment moved last week by myself and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, which we also raised in Committee. It raises the need for reviews to take place when another jurisdiction—specifically, in this case, many of us cited the United States of America—had banned a particular company which was not banned in the United Kingdom but working within the telecommunications sector.

One example the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and I gave in our debates was Hikvision, which is banned in the United States. It makes the surveillance cameras that are used punitively against the Uighur people in Xinjiang but are also used in our own high streets and public buildings. That amendment called for a review: that when any such company is banned in another Five Eyes jurisdiction, it is to be reviewed in the United Kingdom. It is a very reasonable all-party amendment, but it was opposed by the Government. Before the Minister completes his remarks today, could he tell us what has happened to that amendment and how the Government intend to respond to it?

I was remiss in not adding to the long list of names I read out those of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra, who signed that cross-party amendment to which the noble Lord just referred. Of course, the amendment goes to the other place, which will look at it, the official record and the debate we had on it. I am sorry I was not able to persuade the noble Lord and my noble friend of it, but I will work with my colleagues in DCMS to make sure that they take into account the views of your Lordships’ House as expressed in the vote. I will not pre-empt the debates that will be had in another place, but I look forward to seeing what it sends us back in continuing that debate.

In the spirit which all noble Lords have mentioned today of wanting to see this important Bill on the statute book swiftly but with the proper scrutiny that both places want to give it, I beg to move.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.