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The Telecommunications (Security) Bill 2019-2021 (“the Bill”) was introduced in the House of Commons on Tuesday 24 November 2020. Second reading took place on Monday 30 November 2020. The Committee Stage was held between 14 and 16 January 2021. The Bill’s Report Stage and Third Reading are scheduled for 25 May 2021.

The aims of the Bill

The Bill would bring in a new regulatory framework for telecommunications security. The Bill follows a cross-government review of UK telecommunications supply chains led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) from November 2018 and reporting in July 2019. The review focused on the supply chain arrangements for UK telecoms networks (where and from which companies UK telecoms networks source their equipment) and included an assessment of the wider security regulatory framework for telecoms. The Bill is set against a backdrop of security-related concerns with the involvement of Chinese technology company Huawei in telecoms infrastructure in the UK and abroad.

The Bill introduces a new security framework for the UK telecoms sector to ensure that public telecommunications providers operate secure and resilient networks and services and manage their supply chains appropriately. The Bill would place stronger duties and responsibilities on telecoms providers, and provide stronger powers for Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, to enforce those duties. The Bill includes new powers for the Secretary of State to set telecoms security requirements in regulations and codes of practice. The Bill would also give new national security powers to the Secretary of State to impose directions on telecoms providers with regard to “high risk vendors”. The Government stated that the Bill would “give the UK one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world”.

Response to the Bill

The Bill has received broad support from across the House. There is general consensus that cyber-attacks on the telecommunications infrastructure pose a significant threat to national security and that legislation is needed to strengthen the security framework. Some members have commented that the Bill should have been introduced sooner.

Key trade associations have issued brief statements of support for the Bill. This has been described as a “guarded welcome”. The telecoms company Huawei has reportedly expressed unhappiness with the proposals.

Progress of the Bill

The Committee Stage of the Bill ran from 14-26 January 2021. Technical amendments were moved by the Government and agreed. No other amendments were made.

Opposition amendments covered three major themes: national security, diversification of the supply chain and parliamentary scrutiny. There was suggestion that a number of these amendments would be returned to at a later stage.

A carry-over motion for the Bill was passed, enabling its continued progress into the next parliamentary session. The remaining stages of the Bill in the Commons have been scheduled for 25 May 2021.

The Bill, Explanatory Notes and Delegated Powers Memorandum have been published on the Bill page. The Bill’s Impact Assessment as well as summary factsheets have been published by DCMS.

As well as the Telecoms (Security) Bill, the Government introduced the National Security and Investment Bill 2019-2021 on 11 November 2020. This Bill would provide the Government with new powers to scrutinise and intervene in business transactions such as acquisitions for national security reasons. See CBP 8784 National Security and Investment Bill 2019-2021.

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