Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:56 pm on 10th July 2017.

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Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Co-National Campaign Coordinator 5:56 pm, 10th July 2017

No, I have given way once to the hon. Lady, I will not do so again.

There is a further omission in this Bill—the exclusion of any real and meaningful legislative commitments on growing rural broadband. I am worried that there appears to be absolutely no mention in the body of the Bill or the explanatory notes of growing and expanding the UK’s superfast broadband in our rural areas, although the Minister touched on it and I think there is some consensus about its desirability.

Let me give a short anecdote. Last year, I was privileged to be in a delegation to Zambia for the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly. In the middle of Africa, in the middle of nowhere, on a visit to a health scheme near the Zambezi river, I received an almost-perfect 4G connection to my mobile phone. There are parts of my constituency where I do not get such a perfect 4G connection. We need to look at our internet connections, broadband connections and mobile telephone connections in this country so that we have the very best to support business, consumers and individuals.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, many families living in rural areas struggle to get anything close to fast broadband, let alone 5G, which is what we are discussing today. Many others struggle to get anything above 2 megabits per second, making most average use of day-to-day internet functions incredibly frustrating. The impact on rural businesses is steep, with the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs warning before the 2015 general election that rural communities are being overlooked for potential investment by businesses looking to expand and develop because certain regions have very poor digital connectivity. The then Chair of the Committee, the former Member for Thirsk and Malton, said:

“There is a risk in the current approach that improving service for those who already have it will leave even further behind those who have little or none.”

Rather than taking responsibility for this ever-growing chasm in our technology and identifying specific areas that desperately need investment, the Government have chosen to rely solely on the market to encourage improvements in any given area.