New legislative rules aimed at blocking the installation of Huawei technology in the UK’s 5G network have been rejected by MPs.
The Telecommunications (Security) Bill should force providers to stop installing equipment by the Chinese phone-maker in the UK’s 5G networks and also sets out a road map to remove high-risk vendors altogether.
The House of Lords had backed a move to require the Government to provide an annual update on network diversification, but MPs rejected this by 276 votes to 161, a majority of 115.
Peers also wanted to compel the Government to review telecoms firms banned on security grounds by another member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, which includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
But MPs voted to remove this amendment from the Bill by 273 votes to 161, majority 112.
‘Restrictive and premature’
Culture minister Julia Lopez claimed the amendment for an annual report was “restrictive and premature” given the market is “rapidly changing”, adding the Government wants to “focus its attention where it’ll have the greatest impact”.
She said: “While our focus is currently on diversifying radio access networks, once that part of the mobile network has been diversified we will move on to focus on other areas.”
Lopez said committing to report on specific criteria would “limit” the Government to reporting on the risks as they are found today.
On the Five Eyes amendment, Lopez said it would require the Government “to do something that has been of the Bill from the outset”.
But Conservative former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: “If we look back over the last few months, even a year or so, we do see very much that the resistance (by the UK Government) early on over Huawei, when other Five Eyes countries were banning it, has now led to a remarkable back cost of replacing all of this stuff because we failed to take an early decision.”
Sir Iain said the amendment was not perfect but did indicate a “big weakness” in the Government’s position in the Bill, adding the UK should pause and investigate if a Five Eyes ally “spots there is a problem” with a provider.
For Labour, shadow culture minister Chi Onwurah said: “The Government is bodging this.
“It is leaving it to the market when national security is not a market function.”
She said Labour has consistently welcomed the Bill but it is “only a small step towards achieving a truly secure and robust” telecommunications network.
Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell (Romford) had said the Five Eyes amendment would “further strengthen” the UK’s ties with its allies.
The Bill will return to the Lords where further amendments could be tabled.