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Rural Broadband

Volume 614: debated on Thursday 8 September 2016

We continue to support the roll-out of superfast broadband to reach 95% of UK homes and businesses by December next year, and we are reinvesting funds from project savings and revenues specifically to help those people in harder-to-reach areas, such as rural communities.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her promotion and wish her well in her post, which I am sure she will make a great success of. Is she aware that, while 84% of properties in my constituency have access to superfast speeds, 9.5% still do not have access to 10 megabits per second and 2% have no access at all to even basic broadband? Many of those remote communities include farms and businesses that want to expand and get on and diversify, but they are being held back, so what more can she and her team do about that?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words; I do appreciate them. He has pointed out that more than four in five properties in his constituency have access to superfast broadband; it is very important that they know that and make sure, if they wish, that they can access it. I know that very well, given that I also represent a rural constituency.

We are looking to make sure that there is access to superfast broadband for all in rural areas. My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that the project savings and revenues for reinvestment are already being made available to local projects across the UK, which can then determine how and where that money is best spent. So far, nearly £130 million of take-up revenue has been confirmed for reinvestment in local projects nationwide, and we expect up to £150 million of savings in addition. More than £10 million of that is being reinvested in hard-to-reach areas in Norfolk.

A lot of my constituents have written to me recently about the problems with superfast broadband and lack of access to it. Obviously, if people do not have access to it, their non-access is 100%. They want certainty in timescale and when it is going to happen. What can the Secretary of State do to increase that certainty?

I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s comments, which are exactly the same as those I receive from my constituents. I am working, together with the Minister for Digital and Culture, to make sure that we communicate to all people and businesses when they can expect access to superfast broadband. We are also making sure that universal service is available to all in the timeframe set out.

The village of Harrington in the borough of Kettering is just two miles from the town of Rothwell, and yet it has had tremendous difficulties in persuading BT to provide it with superfast broadband. Farms on the outskirts of Harrington are almost in despair that they will never get it. What reassurance can the Secretary of State give my constituents that they will be connected?

I encourage my hon. Friend to contact me and the Minister of State, and we will make sure that we speak both to BT Openreach and to other service providers, to find out exactly that information.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the existence of not spots in urban areas is often the result of a combination of cock-ups, including commercial rivalries between companies, which are sometimes overlaid with developers taking their eye off the ball at the wrong time and local authorities not getting their act together? Whose responsibility is it to sort that out?

The hon. Gentleman has nailed some of the problems in urban areas, the Minister and I are working very hard to rectify them.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. As a fellow graduate of Imperial College, I hope to find in her a fellow champion of the digital economy. However, although I welcome her to her place, she should be ashamed of the situation we are in. In 2016—four years after the last Labour Government’s commitment to universal broadband for all would have come into force—hundreds of thousands of British citizens do not even have the speed to download an email and can only dream of the speed necessary to watch the parliamentary channel and see your good self, Mr Speaker. Will the Secretary of State disavow her predecessor’s laissez-faire attitude and tell us what she is going to do to end that disgraceful situation?

The hon. Lady and I are both alumni of Imperial College, a great institution that does so much to further science and technology and to ensure that we have the right skills in the digital market so that we can be a world leader. I have to take issue with some of the comments she has made, however. This Government have done more than many others and this country is well ahead of, many others in broadband provision. I fully appreciate that if an individual does not have access to broadband, they feel somehow that that is not right. It is not right; we are determined to get it right, and we will get it right. I absolutely and totally disagree with any suggestion that there is a laissez-faire attitude in the Government. This Government are a Government for all the country—for everyone—and we will deliver.