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Government defeated in Lords over ultrafast broadband bill

The Lords have backed a Liberal Democrat amendment that expands the rights of tenants to request ultra-fast broadband connections in blocks of flats and apartment buildings.

The ruling, which garnered 294 votes for and 234 against, requested changes to the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill, which Lib Dem spokesman Lord Clement-Jones said lacked clarity.

While the government has been defeated at this stage, the Bill will have to go back to the Commons to give MPs the chance to either accept or overturn the change.

Labour’s Lord Livermore also backed the move, arguing that renters did not seem to figure in the government’s approach and accused ministers of resisting change to the legislation

But Baroness Barran, a digital minister, said the amendment was too overreaching and could see lodgers and hostel residents being given unprecedented powers over the infrastructure of properties they are only temporarily inhabiting.

The government was also defeated during a vote for Labour-led proposals to boost broadband speeds across the country.

In a 52-majority ruling, peers called for a review of the legislation within six months of it becoming law to assess whether it was sufficient to support access to one gigabit per second broadband by 2025.

For the Opposition, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara said the Bill was “unambitious” and called for a “step change” in broadband speeds.

But the government survived challenges to its decision to allow Huawei to be involved in building the UK’s 5G network.

Huawei was accused by a large number of members of being complicit in and enabling abuses by the Beijing regime, during the report stage of the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill.

Barran had initially argued that the Bill was not the right place for widely backed proposals to introduce a human rights threshold in relation to digital infrastructure access.

But with defeat likely, she conceded that they could return to the issue at third reading and “endeavour to find all time possible to find sufficient ground to bring back a government amendment” with the concerns raised “rooted in that”.

The bid to change the legislation was led by independent crossbencher Lord Alton of Liverpool, who said: “It empowers the government to deny infrastructure access to operators, which it believes are abusing human rights.”

He was supported by non-affiliated peer Baroness Falkner of Margravine, who said: “Do they think that the flat dwellers who might benefit from 5G will thank them as they discover that the product they are using has been bought with slave labour and can jeopardise their future cyber-security?”

Tory former Cabinet minister Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said he was taking part in the proceedings online “using equipment manufactured by a company which is central to the Communist Party of China’s surveillance state and as such to the egregious oppression of religious and other minorities”.

Highlighting a catalogue of human rights abuses in China, Lord Forsyth said: “If we allow our dependency to grow, how much more difficult it will be for us to take a stand for national security, for decency, and for human rights.”

In January Boris Johnson gave Huawei the go-ahead to play a limited role in building the UK’s 5G networks, albeit only in the construction of “non-core” infrastructure.

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