Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:09 pm on 10th July 2017.

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Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Conservative, North East Hampshire 8:09 pm, 10th July 2017

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Wendy Morton, who addressed the substance of this important Bill with her customary attention to detail and her personal reflections on the progress that the internet has made. The change it has made to all our lives has been enormously valuable.

I will address the core of the Bill first, before explaining why it is so important. It is excellent that the Bill will provide for 100% business rates relief for full fibre infrastructure for a five-year period from 1 April 2017, and it is important that that is backdated so that it truly supports telecommunications companies that invest in their fibre network. It is also important that the Government will cover the full costs of that relief. As a former councillor, I know the impact that Government reliefs can have on local government, and it is important to note that the Government have said here that, because of the measure’s importance, they will meet the full cost of the relief.

I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills and for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) for mentioning the impact on Scotland. The Bill, of course, has territorial extent to England and Wales, but the Barnett formula applies, so it is important that we recognise how it affects the whole United Kingdom.

As we have heard, constituencies vary across the UK, from tightly packed urban settings to sparser rural settings. Superfast broadband, based on part-fibre, part-copper technology as today, is now available to 93% of premises, which is good progress. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills spoke about the progress of the internet, and I recall having a dial-up modem that would beep away before connecting at perhaps 28 kilobits per second—FaceTime or Skype would have been inconceivable in those days. We have made huge progress, and 93% of premises being able to access the part-copper, part-fibre service is good news, but the proposed relief provides—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—£60 million-worth of support to telecoms companies that invest in their fibre network by installing new fibre lines.

Virgin Media is now part of Liberty Global, which, to deviate slightly, shows the importance of having a competitive corporation tax regime. As has already been noted, a competitive corporation tax regime means a company such as Liberty has invested in Britain and bought Virgin Media, and is now taking it forward. I would have thought that the Bill will boost Virgin Media’s £3 billion “project lightning” network expansion, as well as plans by Openreach, a subsidiary of BT, to increase its investment in fibre optic. The Bill will also help smaller alternative players, which my hon. Friend Kit Malthouse said were priced out of the market in the past due to the impact of business rates and other competitive and regulatory pressures.

I welcome the Government’s aim, through this and other measures, to provide superfast broadband speeds of 24 megabits per second, or more, for at least 95% of the United Kingdom, which is progress beyond what we have achieved to date, but we should go further. That is why I am pleased that the Digital Economy Act 2017 provides for every household to have a legal right to request a fast broadband connection.