TELECOMMUNICATIONS INFRASTRUCTURE BILL - Speech to the House of Commons - Tuesday 10th March 2020



(taken from

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): It is essential in this debate that we do not conflate the issues of trade and security. In order to achieve greater trade with China we do not need to sacrifice our national security by including Huawei.

I worked hard as Trade Secretary to improve our trade with China, and getting better Chinese trade is good, not least for bringing millions—billions—of people out of poverty in that country. That is in itself a good thing, but—and it comes with a very large but—it must, ​as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) said, come with a rules-based system.

We know that there is an incredible lack of transparency in China about what is in the state sector and what is in the private sector, and Huawei is a classic example of that. The distinctions that we accept in the free-market west are not accepted in the Chinese system, which is why, for example, it is so able to get around some of the pricing constraints that we put in tenders. It is very unclear how investment is funded. While competitors to Huawei such as Samsung have to make very clear to their shareholders how investment is raised and then spent, that transparency does not exist when it comes to Huawei. When I spoke to Samsung about this issue and asked why it was not at the forefront in countries such as the United Kingdom, its answer was, “Well, we have to invest along with the international rules and we have to account to our shareholders and to the law.” These are not things that apply to Huawei, and in any case the way that the tenders were constructed allows a company that lacks transparency such as Huawei always to underbid. If I wanted to get into someone else’s national infrastructure, and I was able to count on ghost state funding to do so, I would certainly take that opportunity. Why would we be surprised that that happens with Huawei?

Bob SeelyBetween 6% and 7% of our overseas export trade is with China, and we are worried about offending it. One third of the Australians’ export trade goes to China. China would therefore have the power to cripple Australian export trade if it chose another supplier for some of those products, but it does not do so, and Australia has said no and ruled out high-risk vendors in its 5G. So the economic risks and the economic threats are much exaggerated.

Dr Fox: Not only are they greatly exaggerated, it is utterly untrue that there is a link between the two. My hon. Friend has made the case perfectly clearly that the Chinese knew that the Australians were ruling out Huawei involvement yet they still trade with Australia, so the argument in this debate is a red herring entirely. This is an issue about national security. Also, in terms of trading and China, we have not yet resolved issues such as dumping, illegal subsidy and intellectual property theft—and that is before we take into account the 2017 national intelligence law.

John RedwoodWill my right hon. Friend confirm that in the important talks between the US and China, the issue of intellectual property theft and the legitimate defence of western technology was absolutely central and the US got guarantees in that deal which we still do not have?

Dr Fox: That was absolutely central, as my right hon. Friend says; whether the guarantees will turn out to be enforceable is a separate issue, however, and that of course points to some of the issues the United States has about Chinese membership of the World Trade Organisation.

Mr David DavisAs my right hon. Friend intimates, there is a massive subsidy from the Chinese state to Huawei, and that is for a purpose. Would he care to expatiate on what that purpose might be?

Dr Fox: In a moment I will come on to why I think our values must be a part of our approach to this particular issue, as well as national security, but there is a key question for the Secretary of State to answer in this debate, and it is a very simple one: do the Government believe that there is any risk to the United Kingdom’s national security if Huawei is involved in our 5G system? The Government cannot talk about a small risk; we do not want there to be a risk at all. One of the things I have found extremely irritating in this whole debate and in many of the briefings that have come forward is the response, “Don’t worry, we can mitigate the risk of Huawei being there.” Why would anyone want to mitigate a risk when they can avoid the risk in the first place?

That goes to the root of the issue. The idea that we must have Huawei because there are no alternatives is untrue. The United States is going to get 5G and it will get it without Huawei, because it will not bring that risk to its own national security. So what is wrong with the United Kingdom having to wait a little longer to get 5G, but to get a 5G that will give us security in the long-term—and, as has been rightly said, so what if it costs us a little bit more? The cost is much less than the risk to long-term national security.

 2.15 pm

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con)We have all heard the Government say that they can mitigate the risks of Huawei being involved in the roll-out of 5G, but my response to those security briefings was that the Government do not have to persuade me; they have to persuade our Five Eyes partners. If the Government cannot persuade the Americans, Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians that they can mitigate the risk, it does not matter whether they can mitigate it or not, as we will lose access to that security information, and that is a price we cannot pay.

Dr Fox: Although I accept my hon. Friend’s point, I think the Government’s first duty is to persuade the House of Commons that we are not taking a risk with our national security.

I want to come briefly to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) about reputation. It is beyond doubt that countries around the world will be looking to the United Kingdom to see what decision we make. If we send out the signal that we, a country that is so highly regarded in terms of our national security infrastructure, think it is all right to involve Huawei in our 5G, others will follow. In fact, it is worse than that; we are already being cited as an example by other countries who intend to make that decision. Today, we have an opportunity to pause and say that the United Kingdom cannot be cited as a precedent, because we have not yet taken that decision—and hopefully we never will.

Mr PatersonMy right hon. Friend is making a very powerful point. Does he agree that if we did that, we would be in a tremendous position to work with our Five Eyes partners on a common programme, as suggested by US senators in their letter to MPs last week?

Dr Fox: I could not agree more. This decision comes down to the wider issue of our values and what our world view is. This decision will demonstrate that to ​countries around the world. What China wants is to make the world a more permissive place for autocratic regimes. What we need to do is to make the world a more permissive place for those who believe in freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Our national security is intrinsic to protecting those values. The decision we take will say more than just what we intend to do for the 5G network and the internet of things; it will say something about what Britain is and intends to be in the years ahead, and how we intend to shape the world around us.

Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth and Southam) (Con)I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. May I take him back a little in his speech? I agree entirely that it is not a good argument for the inclusion of Huawei that not to do so would cost us a little more or take us a little longer, but does he accept that if we pursue our 5G network with other suppliers, it is highly likely that those suppliers will also use Chinese equipment? Therefore, whatever we do with Huawei, it is important to strengthen our entire telecoms supply chain network against all types of threat.

Dr Fox:

I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, and I am grateful to him for raising that point. When I was practising medicine—or, as my wife would say, “When you had a proper job”—I was never inclined to do the cheapest or the fastest treatment. It was always the best treatment and that is what we have to apply here. This is a much more important issue. If we have to wait a little longer and pay a little more for the security of this country, then we should do just that.

We have a choice in politics and it is fairly binary: at whatever level and on whatever issue, we either choose to shape the world around us or we will be shaped by the world around us. I believe that the values we have in this House—certainly, the values we have as a party—and the conventions and traditions of this country are not something gathering dust on a shelf. They are a route map to the future. We have to believe in those values and be willing to defend them.

I hope the Secretary of State can give us enough concessions today to allow him to go away and think again about these issues. If he does not, I am afraid the Government will face an embarrassing vote today. As someone who is a former Secretary of State for Defence who sat on the National Security Council, it would give me no pleasure to vote against a Conservative Government because I believed they were undermining our national security. I urge the Secretary of State to go away and think about these issues, and bring them back in a way that provides satisfaction that our national security will not be sold for any reason whatever.