Digital Economy Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:57 pm on 13th September 2016.

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Photo of Neil Carmichael Neil Carmichael Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education, Skills and the Economy Sub-Committee 5:57 pm, 13th September 2016

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston, because he made the fundamental point about the size of the digital economy in the United Kingdom and its importance to so many of our constituencies, including my own.

One of the things I want to highlight first is that we in Stroud have a strong and growing e-learning centre, effectively, with a large number of small and medium-sized firms contributing to its success. Of course, e-learning depends to a large extent on effective internet coverage and good access. My constituency has five valleys and a substantial vale, and not all of those places are easily connected. That has certainly proved to be the case in the final move towards universal coverage. I therefore make a plea to the Minister to recognise not only the strength of e-learning in my constituency but the power of the digital economy in general, and I urge him to think of ways, in addition to those he has already come up with, to make sure that clusters of small businesses in areas that need additional contact are indeed supported.

The Minister’s predecessor, my right hon. Friend Mr Vaizey, talked about the importance of infrastructure and about the similarity of the infrastructure for the internet to other infrastructures, and I would pick up on the issue of road infrastructure to illustrate that point. An impressive motorway or a road leading almost to somewhere, but not quite getting there, is useless. That is part of the problem with the internet coverage in areas that are, I admit, difficult to deal with, but that do need special attention because they are also often the areas where growth will come if we get the right kind of connectivity. There is a cluster of businesses in rural areas that really do need attention. [Interruption.] I can see that my point is getting a lot of approval from Members on both sides of the House. Obviously Scotland is—