Digital Economy Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:12 pm on 13th September 2016.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 1:12 pm, 13th September 2016

Yes, all sizes, as well.

We know that the International Trade Secretary believes that our businesses are lazy, but I know many that are cutting a swathe through the internet, as opposed to the golf course. Greater connectivity can help businesses to work on the move or to use new workspaces rather than traditional ones. We are also seeing new types of work, new products and markets, and digital tools that help current businesses to be more effective. Whether it is farmers relying on GPS to guide their tractors or start-ups using blockchain to address financial inclusion, digital infrastructure, tools, skills and platforms are the building blocks of the British economy.

The good news is that we are a great digital economy—indeed, we are Europe’s leading digital economy. We are only at the start of the digital revolution, with the internet of things, big data and artificial intelligence set to transform the way we live and work. Now is definitely the time to bring forward a Bill to set out the vision and policies to place the UK at the top of the global digital economy. Sadly, this is not that Bill. TechUK, the digital sector trade body, described it as fixing some basics. That was rather generous. The Bill is an excellent example of that old “Yes Minister” trick of putting the difficult part in the title so it can be ignored in the document itself.

There are some good measures in the Bill, so let me begin with those. First, the universal service obligation is a long overdue half-step in the right direction. The last Labour Government left fully costed plans for universal broadband coverage by 2012. [Interruption.] I am afraid that is the truth. Members may not like it, but it is in the documents—I helped write them. The Conservatives’ bungling procurement process and total lack of ambition left many behind, particularly in rural economies. The National Farmers Union and the Countryside Alliance have been vocal in highlighting the Government’s shortcomings so I will add only that it is an absolute disgrace that in 2016 there are still people in this country—one of the richest in the world—who cannot even download an email.

We also welcome some movement on digital consumer rights; making it easier for consumers to switch between mobile, landline, broadband and TV providers will empower them. We are glad that the Bill gives Ofcom the teeth to ensure that customers are automatically compensated for poor service, but we also want it to be given the resources to make sure it can deliver on that—here I make another declaration of interest, as a previous employee of Ofcom.

We also welcome increased protection for children against pornography, something many on the Opposition Benches have campaigned for tirelessly. We will seek in Committee to improve the practicality and effectiveness of the measures proposed. Parents need to be given more information about protecting their children. Critically, there needs to be compulsory sex and relationships education in our schools, so that we can teach young people about healthy relationships. I heard the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee calling for that this morning.