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Digital Infrastructure

Volume 626: debated on Thursday 29 June 2017

7. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that digital infrastructure meets the needs of the economy. (900080)

May I welcome the hon. Lady to the House? Some 93.2% of premises in the country now have access to superfast broadband, and we are on track to deliver access to 95% by the end of the year. Our universal service obligation will ensure that every premises can have access to high-speed broadband by 2020.

Slow and poor-quality broadband is seriously hampering a number of businesses in my constituency, from rural Rowlands Gill to the industrialised Tees Valley trading estate, as I am sure it is in other Members’ constituencies. What plans do the Government have to ensure that 100% of areas have access to high-speed, high-quality broadband?

I absolutely understand the frustration of people running businesses in the hon. Lady’s constituency and others. Getting access to high-speed broadband up to over 93% has been a big and positive task, but we clearly want to make it available to all premises in the country. That is why we legislated for the universal service obligation, and I look forward to ensuring that it happens.

Thanks to the Government’s commitment to providing high-speed broadband to rural areas, 8,432 more homes and businesses in my constituency are on high-speed broadband since 2015, but 10% are still not. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the cap in the important universal broadband service commitment will be high enough to ensure that high-speed broadband reaches the most rural areas in my constituency?

It is clearly incredibly important to ensure that universal access to broadband reaches as far as possible. Of course, there are technologies that do not require a physical line, such as fixed wireless broadband, which we can use in really rural areas.

8. On Monday we were all pleased to learn that the people of Northern Ireland are to benefit from another £150 million of investment in digital infrastructure, which is necessary for the development and growth of their economy and is welcome news. On Tuesday, we learned from Which?, the consumers association, that the poorest average connectivity speeds in the whole country are in Orkney and Shetland. When are we going to get our cash? (900081)

Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have put enormous investment into the north of Scotland and the islands to expand both fixed broadband and mobile phone connectivity. It is a great pity that the contracts to get broadband to Scotland were signed more slowly than those for England and Wales, and I am afraid that was because we devolved responsibility to the Scottish Government.

Despite superfast broadband access being a requirement for new estates such as Willow Road in Norton Canes, the infrastructure has not been put in place there, meaning that residents have the speeds of a decade ago. What measures are being put in place to ensure that new estates have superfast broadband?

It is simply ridiculous for any new estate to be built without decent broadband connectivity. It ill behoves any developer to build a development without the very best connectivity. The big developers have said that they will put fibre broadband into any group of more than 30 houses, and it is now the law that big new developments must have superfast broadband. I am happy to work with my hon. Friend and others to make that happen, because it must happen.

Given the increasing intensity of cyber-attacks and the threats to our national infrastructure, it was frankly shocking to see no mention of cyber-security in the Queen’s Speech. Will the Minister confirm that the Government’s cyber-security strategy relies on a scheme that claims to be a badge of assurance for thousands of businesses and institutions, but is in fact based on outdated technology, redundant hacking approaches and—astonishingly—was itself hacked last week?

No, I do not recognise what the hon. Lady says. Cyber-security is incredibly important, and that is why we brought in and put together the National Cyber Security Centre, which has been leading on those issues. The laws we have are largely the laws that we need on cyber, which is why there was no need for mention of it in the Queen’s Speech. What we do in government is not only the legislative programme; it is also about getting on and protecting people with cyber-security.

I am very generous so I will give the Minister a chance to correct the record. Is it the case that the Cyber Essentials scheme and the “10 Steps to Cyber Security” make absolutely no reference to encryption or to the hashing and salting of passwords, that the take-up of both schemes has been exceptionally low, particularly from small businesses, that neither scheme makes reference to the Cloud, and that the Cyber Essentials scheme was hacked last week?

That ill becomes the hon. Lady, given her normally reasonable approach. The Cyber Essentials scheme is incredibly important for improving cyber-security. All businesses should look at it, and I would say they should implement it. For Labour Members to try to make party political noises out of something that is incredibly important for our country shows that they simply have not got what it takes.