Mobile Telephone Coverage

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 15 January 2015.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 9:30, 15 January 2015

What progress he has made on improving mobile telephone coverage in (a) Northamptonshire and (b) England.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Last month we reached a landmark agreement with mobile operators to deliver improvements across the UK by 2017, including in England. This locks in £5 billion of investment and each operator will cover at least 90% of the UK landmass.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Not spots are particularly frustrating for those who live in isolated villages where mobile phone coverage is often essential, but also for those who are on the move by road or by train. What is the Secretary of State doing to tackle the problem of not spots?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of trains and communications, which is why the Government have made a commitment to improve connectivity on trains. He may be aware that Network Rail is in the middle of a competition to work out the best solution to the problem. On Government support, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced a few months back £53 million of funding for the programme, with money that Network Rail was supposed to return to the Government. I will also ask my right hon. Friend to give my hon. Friend an update.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Labour, Hackney South and Shoreditch

The Secretary of State has taken some bold steps to push mobile telephone companies to increase coverage in not spots. However, even in areas such as mine in Shoreditch, with mobile coverage, wi-fi and broadband, there is a real issue about planning permission for buildings that are tall enough to allow other technologies to flourish. Will he update the House on conversations he is having or will be having with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about changing planning permission to allow these other technologies to flourish?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Lady has raised an important issue. We are having ongoing discussions, and we have ongoing plans to improve the situation. As the hon. Lady may know, the deal that was announced last month with mobile phone operators included an agreement by the Government to give them access, at market prices, to Government-owned property on which we have the freehold, and I think that that is a positive step.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

It seems rather bizarre that commercial airlines flying over the Ribble valley are now able to use mobile phones, while, below them, rural parts of my constituency have no coverage whatsoever. Will the Secretary of State encourage mobile phone operators to use the new technologies that are available, to ensure that rural England has full coverage?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend is right, but, as he will know, although the deal announced last month is voluntary, it is binding on each of the operators because of licence changes that are to be made. It will massively increase coverage throughout the United Kingdom, halving the number of what are known as partial not spots, and reducing the number of total not spots by two thirds. There will be improved coverage of data as well as voice.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Members on both sides of the House have rightly pointed out that not spots are not only infuriating for individuals but bad for businesses, especially small businesses, in many cities as well as rural areas. Unfortunately, the Government left it until the dying moments of this Parliament before taking action. What the Secretary of State described a moment ago as a landmark agreement is falling apart. Will he confirm that mobile network operators have told him, as they have told us, that he has reneged on the promises that he made about the electronic communications code—the amendments to the Infrastructure Bill that he has tabled at the last minute are wholly inadequate—and that he cannot tell the taxpayer whether this will cost us all £1 billion in lost revenues to Ofcom? Is not the truth of the matter that we now need a Labour Government to do the job properly?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Some things never change. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is clutching at straws. He has a reputation for opposing everything that comes before him, even if it is blindingly obvious that it will be great for everyone in the country. Given that he is new in his present role, having been kicked out of his old one, and that it is the start of a new year, we thought that he might have turned over a new leaf, but no such luck. I am sure, however, that he is intelligent enough to look at the deal carefully, and when he does so, he will see that it is a good result for everyone in the United Kingdom—including his constituents, who currently have some of the worst mobile phone coverage in the country.