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Broadband Projects

Volume 525: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2011

3. What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on expenditure on broadband projects in Wales. (45733)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular meetings with ministerial colleagues on issues that affect Wales, including broadband projects. I am sure my hon. Friend will welcome, as I do, the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 10 February that we are providing £10 million of funding to support the extension of superfast broadband to Pwllheli and the surrounding areas.

I thank my right hon. Friend. Does she agree that due to the remote and rural nature of many parts of Wales—like many parts of my constituency—it is vital for businesses in rural communities to have effective broadband?

Yes, I agree that broadband is extremely important for rural communities. Indeed, it is arguably more important in the countryside than in our towns and cities. It enables people to run businesses from rural locations with no competitive disadvantage, and farmers in particular urgently need broadband to file their returns.

Although I appreciate and welcome the announcement of the broadband pilot, bizarrely made at Wrexham and not in the House, I represent the Pwllheli area among other parts of west Wales and I have no doubt that it was to due to pressure from the Deputy First Minister. Can the Minister tell me precisely which areas of my constituency will be included in the pilot and which will not?

The right hon. Gentleman gives the pilot a rather strange welcome—a rather curmudgeonly one, I would suggest. As he knows, the rural area around Pwllheli is intended to be included in the pilot, from which we hope to gain important knowledge on the further roll-out of broadband across Wales.

The economic renewal plan in Wales set out to provide high-speed links to all businesses by 2015 and all houses by 2020, and as the Minister knows, under the “Wi-fi Wales” initiative, there are plans to enable free wireless connection to all publicly owned buildings in Wales. What support will the Minister and the Secretary of State give to those plans? There is currently huge criticism of the Wales Office, but if they get stuck in on that, they might silence some of their critics.

It is fairly clear that the right hon. Gentleman does not keep in touch with his colleagues in the Assembly, because very recently, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I hosted a trilateral meeting between the Deputy First Minister and the Minister with responsibility for broadband via video link from the Wales Office in Gwydyr house. We are fully engaged in this process, and it is quite wrong for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that we are not.

The Welsh Assembly Government have offered a grant to people in not-spots throughout Wales. Can communities get together to use such facilities to provide a community solution, rather than individuals finding their own solutions?

Yes, indeed. The proposal is that hubs should be provided in communities, but the technology that may be used thereafter will not be specified, so wi-fi or other appropriate solutions can be used depending on the nature of the area.