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Volume 556: debated on Thursday 10 January 2013

We are making very good progress. Nine local projects have agreed contracts, and I switched on the first street cabinet supported by the rural broadband programme at Ainderby Steeple in North Yorkshire on 13 December.

I thank the Minister for that answer. It is excellent news that Wiltshire council is now able to roll out superfast broadband. However, the Minister has to agree that a small percentage of households—typically 2% to 3%—will not be affected by the roll-out. What does he have to say about the small number of rural communities that will not take advantage of the roll-out of broadband across the county and across England?

Our ambition is to get 90% of premises connected to superfast broadband, but to get all premises connected to broadband speeds of 2 megabits per second. There should be a broadband service for almost all households and that will be technologically neutral, so it should be the right technology solution for them.

The Government were wrong to drop the previous Government’s commitment to deliver a universal broadband service of 2 megabits per second by last year. Has the Minister seen this week’s report by Policy Exchange, which re-emphasises the importance of finally delivering the universal availability of broadband of 2 megabits per second, particularly in rural areas, where businesses are so dependent on it?

The right hon. Gentleman is a distinguished former telecoms Minister, so I take what he says very seriously. I was at the launch of the Policy Exchange pamphlet, but I do not agree with him. I think that it is right that we have a superfast broadband commitment of 90% by 2015, which is realistic and achievable.

A considerable amount of money is being released from the sale of spectrum for reinvestment in broadband. Superfast broadband is important to business, but surely rural areas should also benefit. Is 2 megabits really too much to ask?

No, 2 megabits is not too much to ask, which is why we will deliver 2 megabits to the last 10%.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) said, Policy Exchange produced an important report yesterday, which I thought the Minister had welcomed. It said that the Government should stop

“pursuing speed as a proxy for progress”

and focus

“explicitly on economic and social outcomes”.

The report pointed out that 16 million people lack basic IT skills and that that is one of the major reasons that people give for not getting online. What specific action will the Minister take to help those people?

I hear what the hon. Lady says. It is good to hear her endorsing the work of Policy Exchange, a distinguished centre-right think-tank. I hope that she will continue to support its policy proposals. As I said at the launch of the Policy Exchange pamphlet, Go On UK is doing extraordinarily good work to encourage people to go online. Along with all the councils that are procuring superfast broadband, we have a strategy to encourage people to take up broadband.