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Rural Broadband

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 7 March 2019

The Government have invested £1.8 billion of public money to ensure that 95% of the country has access to superfast broadband. Broadband UK operates voucher schemes, and the Government are introducing a universal service obligation that will give everybody the right to a minimum speed of 10 megabits per second. These interventions are particularly designed to help people in rural areas.

I thank the Minister for her response. The Scottish National party has been boasting about the £600 million that the Scottish Government have supposedly invested—past tense—in the R100 broadband scheme. That money has not been invested; more than a year and a half after the funding was promised, they have still not got round to awarding the contracts. This so-called investment remains just a promise, and the ambition of 100% superfast access by 2021 is looking less realistic than ever. Can the Minister assure me that when she next meets Scottish Government Ministers, she will remind them of the importance of sticking to their timetable?

Order. The Minister’s responsibility is for the UK Government’s policy. She has no responsibility for the policy of the Scottish Government—a fact of which I am sure she is fully aware.

I am indeed aware of that, Mr Speaker, but it is crucial that Governments stick to timetables when delivering an essential utility that is a fundamental part of public need. I will of course be happy to discuss this when I am next in communication with Scottish Government Ministers, who should be held to account for the unacceptable delay in even getting started on this vital work.

The Government’s shift to fibre investment is very welcome, although the levels of fibre in this country for delivering essential infrastructure are very low. North Wales has put forward an impressive bid to support our strong local economy. Will the Minister look closely at the bid and accelerate investment in fibre?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to catch up on fibre. The Government have exciting plans and funding to accelerate fibre roll-out, with a £200 million programme, which was announced in the last Budget, starting this April and a further £300 million before 2022. I will look at the north Wales proposal with great interest.

I thank the Minister most warmly and sincerely for her announcement yesterday of £1.91 million to get superfast broadband into Unst and Yell in Shetland. That money truly has the potential to be transformative for those communities. If she would like to come and see that for herself, she would be very welcome. If she does so, she will also be able to see the remaining communities in Shetland and Orkney where such investment could make a massive difference.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his positive input, and I am planning to visit Scotland in April. I draw his attention to the excellent 5G testbed pilots that we are running in rural areas in his part of Scotland.