30 November 2020
Sir Iain Duncan Smith welcomes the Telecommunications (Security) Bill

Sir Iain Duncan Smith welcomes the Telecommunications (Security) Bill as long overdue and, in particular, welcomes the deadlines set for installation and removal of Huawei equipment.


Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)

I welcome the Government bringing forward this Bill now, and I congratulate them on having listened, which is not always something that Governments can be accused of. The Secretary of State and his Minister, whom I welcome—the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) —have listened to many concerns, and measures to address them are now embedded in the Bill.

China recently said that if there was any further interference, it would poke the eyes out of the Five Eyes. This Bill puts the missing fifth eye back into the Five Eyes, because we have been laggard, lazy and late on this, and I think this would probably be the case across the board, so perhaps that is a positive. The right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) made a very good speech. He was right to say that this is not about China. There are plenty of security risks, as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, said. Russia is a massive security risk to us and has probably carried out more cyber-attacks on us than anybody else. That is debatable, but it has a very big criminal network that attacks us the whole time.

I accept that. However, the difference is that China is now the driving force for our introducing this Bill, because it poses a very different kind of threat. The fact is that China has juxtaposed the ability to dominate in a market sense, which sucks us in—I will come to project kowtow and the mistakes that were made—while at the same time forcing us to often turn a blind eye to some of the work it did, which we do not do with Russia and some of the more immediate threats. It is a peculiar and different challenge, which is now embedded in the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East made the important point that the nature of our exposure has been known about for some considerable time, and we should not have ignored it. I thank my colleagues who joined the Huawei interest group early on, in winter last year, and who have campaigned to try to tighten up these security measures. Following that, the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China was set up, which is now made up of politicians on the left and right from 38 countries, and they are asking us to tighten up our security co-operation and ensure that we get this right.

This Bill is long overdue, and it is welcome, but I want to highlight three issues in it. First, although it is not in the text of the Bill, the Government have now announced that they accept 2027 as the end point for Huawei as a provider that may be high-risk and that no new Huawei equipment may be installed from September 2021. That is very welcome. In fact, the September 2021 date is better than I would have expected at this point, so I congratulate the Government on being very clear about that. That is a more important date than 2027, in effect, because it opens the market and allows others to recognise now that they have a possibility of re-entering a market that was closed to them by one company in particular—there are other companies in China—that has manipulated the normal rules of market adherence and subsidy. It has been a disaster for us not to recognise that on that basis alone, forgetting the security risks as well.

I am, however, concerned by another point about the process, which leaves the Secretary of State to make these decisions going forward, against criteria that are laid out, and I will come back to that. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East said, “Who will be the advisers? Who will advise?” That is absolutely right, and the Secretary of State should listen to the Chair of the Committee on that point. It is important to structure who will advise the Secretary of State and how that will happen. Perhaps the Committee can have a very strong look at that and advise the Government on how to structure that.

There should be a more formal structure embedded in the Bill, otherwise it will be too easy for a Secretary of State, under pressure from the Business Secretary or a Chancellor, such as one we once had, who was very keen on a golden era, to be leant on and told, “Do you really need to go down this road?” That will happen. I sat as a Secretary of State, and I can tell the House that all that stuff happens, and anyone else will say that, too. A more structured approach would not allow the Secretary of State to miss the right people on advice. That will be very important.

The descriptions in the proposed new sections of the Communications Act 2003 under clause 16 of the Bill are important, and I will come back to those, because the list gives the Secretary of State plenty of scope. Tightening up the advice means that that scope will not therefore be wasted.

We are here because of the mistakes of the golden era—the great kowtow, as I would rather call it—where we too often ignored the realities of what was going on in security terms for the sake of this great drive that we would benefit massively from the opening up of trade with China. There was also a mistaken belief: too often, liberal democracies and all of us who believe in freedom of speech and the general freedoms believe, rather arrogantly, that all we have to do is open up markets and everyone else will realise that their system must be wrong and therefore they will change it.

That was the great belief. I was told it endlessly in government, “Don’t worry about this sort of stuff. China will change once they realise exactly how wonderful it is to trade with the west.” Well, they did not. They do not want to change, because they think that their form of government is a better form of government. They will say, “We are opened up to the markets. We are getting the benefits of the marketplace.” China was invited to join the World Trade Organisation back in 2001. There have been real problems since then with market forces, but I want to come back to the security elements.

The worry is that others of the Five Eyes spotted what was going on long before us, and we ignored a lot of the evidence that we should have been tightening up much, much earlier. We should have been concerned. I cannot remember which Member said that security should be the No. 1 consideration, over everything else. We lost that—I hate to say that—and considered it just one of the things we might look at.

Mr Kevan Jones 

I am not one for doing the Government’s job or supporting them, but I do not think we did that actually, in terms of the Huawei cyber-security evaluation centre. We were ahead of other countries that did not do that, including the United States, and let Huawei into their country networks without any checks whatever. But the issue has to be security. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has strong views about China trade, but security has to be at the heart of things, which I think is where we have been up to now.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith 

I have to say that I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman on this. Although the Huawei cyber-security evaluation centre was installed, when I sat and listened to people from it making a presentation to us earlier in the year, it was almost as though we were watching people who were kind of squeezing their own genuine, real opinion, which would have been coming via GCHQ, about how the real threat was formed. Their arguments did not stand up, even in the face of people who were not every day working on security.

The truth is we need to be careful, and it should have been a tighter position from the word go. The very fact that the Government are bringing this measure forward now suggests that that was not the case. [Interruption.] Listen, I am critical of my own Government. I resigned from the damn thing at one point. I have to say that I therefore do believe it is possible for great Governments, like mine, to get things wrong.

Dr Julian Lewis 

In defence of the Huawei cyber-security evaluation centre, its sixth annual report, from September this year, is absolutely devastating in its criticisms of Huawei’s failures to be secure or to make improvements when insecurities have been highlighted.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith 

I agree completely. The point is that when we were talking about this earlier on, it was clear that that was, underneath it all, the centre’s real opinion, but it was kind of moving and modifying. It was also used in a political way, by the way, which I did not think was right. An opinion is either there or it is not; do not get people in to brief Back Benchers about what they should be thinking. I thought that was wrong.

We are absolutely in the right place at this point and the Bill goes a long way towards achieving that. However, we need to do some other things that could be in the Bill. For example, the Bill is about security but it does say on the front that it goes slightly wider than security: the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) signed the bit that says:

“In my view the provisions of the Telecommunications (Security) Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.”

That convention is the European convention on human rights. We need to ask ourselves whether that idea applies to many regimes—not just China—and companies that come from those regimes that may be guilty of human rights abuses.

I asked the Minister previously, in a private context, whether he would consider including in proposed new section 105Z8 of the Communications Act 2003, on designation notices, the inclusion of the ability, where it may arise, to do something in the area of genocide and the involvement of companies in that process. There is very strong evidence in a couple of cases—particularly in the Uyghur case—of the use of slave labour, which should result in those companies being outlawed. The Minister may argue that this Bill might not be the appropriate vehicle for that because it is specifically about security, but every Bill has on its face that we abide by human rights laws. I am not trying to widen the Bill’s scope; I am giving the Minister the opportunity to have that extra element as part of his possible designations. After all, we are dealing with countries and nations that have, particularly in China’s case, torn up much of the book on co-operation and diplomacy.

Let me raise a final point before I conclude. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) has gone, but he mentioned Australia. One of our Five Eyes partners, Australia, had the temerity to ask for an inquiry into the covid outbreak. Since then, the Chinese have attempted, in essence, massively to beat up Australia in a very undiplomatic and aggressive manner. It started with abuse of the individuals who asked for an inquiry and then went further into abuse of the Government. Subsequently, it has gone on to sanctions: the Chinese has now broken WTO rules, with sanctions of more than 200% on Australian wine.

In the past couple of days, the Chinese have produced what I think is called a meme—which is a mocked-up instrument on the internet—that shows something about an Australian soldier trying to kill a child. This is appalling behaviour and I want my Government, at some point, to be very clear that such behaviour is simply not to be borne. Although we have said that we stand with China, the key thing about this sort of thing and our co-operation with our Five Eyes partners is to do more than stand with China: we should condemn behaviour like that that deliberately targets and demeans a democratic nation that goes by the rule of law and human rights, which is something that China does not do. I do hope that the Minister will pass on to his colleagues that no matter what we do with this Bill, we need to make sure that we stand up with our Five Eyes partners, now that we have the National Security and Investment Bill and are moving in that direction, and never allow any one of them to be isolated and picked off one at a time. I commend the Bill to the House.