James Sunderland speaks in support of the Telecommunications (Security) Bill

James Sunderland supports the Bill which will ensure better security, placate our allies and open the door for other 5G providers.


James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall). I am delighted to speak in the debate, for two key reasons. First, it shows that the Government do listen to Back Benchers. We have provided feedback all the way through this process, and some of us have some background on this topic. I am therefore greatly reassured that the Minister is here and is listening to what we are saying.

I also commend the Bill for what it is. I am very reassured that the conclusions of the telecoms supply chain review in 2019 are being met. As the world recovers and recalibrates after covid, the UK has a great opportunity to take the initiative and to become a world leader on another piece of vital technology, and I will be firmly supporting the Government on the Bill.

As our defence and national security move ever more online, it has never been more important to secure our lines of communication. With £16.5 billion extra in the Ministry of Defence budget alone, it is really important that the defence sector takes advantage of that, not least in the cyber-sphere. We have heard today of the strategic independence imperative, and I firmly welcome that.

The Bill will do three things. It will allow for better security, which is absolutely important. It will placate our allies, notably in the Five Eyes community, and why not Japan as well? There is a neat link there with the NEC trial that is coming up in Wales. It will also open the door for other 5G providers. I therefore support the UK’s diversification strategy.

As we have heard, clauses 1 to 14 introduce a more robust telecoms security framework. The Bill enables more specific security prerequisites to be set out in secondary legislation. It also gives the telecoms operators’ regulator Ofcom more power to monitor and enforce industry compliance. Clauses 15 to 23 give new national security powers for the Government to manage the risks posed by high-risk vendors, and we have heard much about that today. The Bill therefore gives the Government new powers, and rightly so.

On 14 July, the Secretary of State announced that, from the end of this year, telecoms operators must not buy any 5G equipment from Huawei, with a timetable for removing all Huawei equipment from our 5G network by 2027. September 2021 has also been announced as the new cut-off date for new Huawei equipment in the UK.

What about the wider requirements of the Bill? This is really important, so I urge the Minister to take note. Industry must be given sufficient time to comply with telecoms security requirements, and deadlines must be realistic. The Government, as we have heard, have settled on 2027 as the date by which high-risk vendor equipment is to be removed and this timeframe must be left as it is. It reflects the complexity of the task and slippage will not be welcomed.

I also support the Government’s initial commitment to promote diversification and resilience in the supply chain backed by the initial £250 million from the spending review. That is probably just the start and it may need more funding. I welcome, as I mentioned, the forthcoming trial in Wales with NEC and our Japanese friends.

I will mention Vodafone very quickly. Vodafone has called for greater investment in Open RAN and, of course, Vodafone has been a key contributor to Open RAN. This would reduce UK reliance on mobile network vendors and allow the UK to develop domestic vendors at scale and benefit consumers through greater price competition. That is to be welcomed. Again, it is clear that the more 5G providers there are, the better it is for everyone. As we have heard, the most sensitive core parts of our 5G network must be free of Huawei equipment and must remain so.

Lastly, upgrading the UK’s mobile infrastructure to 5G could be worth as much as £158 billion over the next 10 years. It will also keep us safe. Surely this is worth investing in, so the telecoms bill is absolutely a step in the right direction and I support it.