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Volume 671: debated on Thursday 13 February 2020

1. What steps his Department is taking to help support the roll-out of (a) full-fibre and (b) gigabit-capable broadband to homes and businesses throughout the UK by 2025. (900773)

3. What steps his Department is taking to help support the roll-out of (a) full-fibre and (b) gigabit-capable broadband to homes and businesses throughout the UK by 2025. (900776)

5. What steps his Department is taking to help support the roll-out of (a) full-fibre and (b) gigabit-capable broadband to homes and businesses throughout the UK by 2025. (900778)

6. What steps his Department is taking to help support the roll-out of (a) full-fibre and (b) gigabit-capable broadband to homes and businesses throughout the UK by 2025. (900779)

Gigabit broadband roll-out is accelerating, and as a result of the steps that the Government are taking, full-fibre coverage has doubled in the past year. We have introduced legislation to make it easier for operators to deploy broadband in blocks of flats and will legislate to mandate gigabit connectivity in new builds, while providing £5 billion of funding to support the roll-out in hard-to-reach areas.

I was delighted when this one nation Government announced a £5 billion package to roll out broadband to the hardest-to-reach areas, but can the Minister tell us when we will see that money being put into action, so that places such as west Oxfordshire can benefit?

As my hon. Friend knows, through our rural gigabit connectivity programme we are already putting £200 million into some of the hardest-to-reach places, not least in west Oxfordshire. The £5 billion of funding, which we will talk about in much greater detail in the Budget and beyond, will see us work with local authorities, particularly in areas such as west Oxfordshire, to get this broadband rolled out there as quickly as possible.

Does my hon. Friend agree that no business should be held back because of poor broadband infrastructure? Can he confirm that this one nation Conservative Government are making record investment in levelling up digital infrastructure?

I can. The value of superfast and gigabit broadband to businesses is enormous, and it will allow the businesses of the future to power this country’s economy. It is the fact that those benefits can be shared so widely that makes the £5 billion Government investment so valuable.

The percentage of residents without access to superfast broadband in Banff and Buchan has decreased from 18% to 16% in the last two years, but that is still far too many and nowhere near fast enough in both senses. In 2020, decent broadband is a necessity for everyone in my constituency, not a luxury. Can the Minister assure me and my constituents that the Government will do all they can, including keeping up pressure on the Scottish Government, to accelerate the roll-out of superfast broadband to my constituents?

Like my hon. Friend, I welcome the progress that has been made in his constituency, but there is more to do. I recently spoke with my Scottish counterpart, Paul Wheelhouse, and the sense that we can work together to deliver this vital programme means that perhaps in Scotland we can have more broadband and less party politics.

Does my hon. Friend agree that remote communities in the Derbyshire Dales, such as Chelmorton, Stanton in Peak, Birchover, Taddington and Cressbrook, like other parts of the country, need to be levelled up and have a chance of getting decent broadband, because they have been forgotten?

It is precisely because of the needs of remote areas such as those in her constituency that we are investing £5 billion in gigabit-capable broadband. I know that, with her speaking up on behalf of her constituents, they will by no means be left behind.

If only complacency built networks, we would have the fastest broadband in the world, but it does not, and neither does it keep our network secure. In June, the National Cyber Security Centre said that we had to act to mitigate the risk of high-risk vendors such as Huawei in our 5G and full-fibre networks. Since then, we have had more disturbing reports from our Five Eyes allies Canada and the US, while former Cabinet Ministers fall over themselves to criticise the Government, but we have had no legislation and not even a plan for legislation. Where is the plan to keep our networks safe?

As the hon. Lady knows, the NCSC has published comprehensive guidance, which the networks are paying close attention to. The networks work closely with our agencies. We will bring forward legislation on this as quickly as we can, because national security will always be at the top of our priority list. That is why we have taken the decision we have taken.

Scotland is approximately two thirds the size of England, but we have more challenging topography and islands to serve, yet Scotland will get a fifth of England’s Building Digital UK fund, and for the R100 programme, the UK Government are only committing £20 million towards the £600 million programme. Does the Minister agree with the recommendation of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that future allocations to Scotland should be based on need, taking into account all those factors?

As I said a minute ago, I recently had a productive conversation with my Scottish counterpart on how the Scottish and UK Governments can work together to get the broadband into Scotland that it so clearly needs.

It is a nice view from up here, Mr Speaker.

The Minister’s Duracell Bunny-like enthusiasm is all very well, and I hope it stands him in good stead during the clear-out today, but it is not enough. Does the Government’s ambition not fall pathetically short of what is really required?

The £5 billion will go an awfully long way and build on the huge progress being made already, but the hon. Gentleman is right: this is not simply about money. That is why we are making legislative changes as well. The Prime Minister has been very clear on his ambition. The recent roundtable at No. 10 with all the broadband providers shows that this is far more than words; it is a real commitment in legislative and financial terms, and it will get Britain the broadband it deserves.

The Prime Minister promised full fibre broadband roll-out by 2025, but pretty quickly that was watered down to “as soon as possible”. What proportion of houses will have full fibre broadband by 2025?

The hon. Member is right: we have said we will make gigabit-capable networks available as soon as possible. The Prime Minister has talked very clearly about that 2025 target and we will legislate to make sure that all new builds have gigabit-capable broadband, and of course we will focus our greatest attention on the hardest-to-reach areas where broadband is currently the worst in the country.