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Superfast Broadband

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th December 2017.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Minister (Housing) 12:00 am, 6th December 2017

What recent discussions he has had with (a) the Scottish Government and (b) Cabinet colleagues on the roll-out of superfast broadband in Scotland.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

May I start by paying tribute to Jimmy Hood, who died earlier this week? Jimmy was formerly my neighbouring MP and a constituent, and although I have to say that we did not agree on very much, we always got on very well. I remain grateful to Jimmy for his help and support when I was first elected to this House. Jimmy would have been proud to see himself as a traditional Labour man through and through, a fighter for mining communities and mining interests and, obviously, a parliamentarian of 28 years’ standing who held many important roles in this Parliament. Our thoughts are with Marion and his family at this time.

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues, the UK Minister for Digital and the Scottish Government regarding the roll-out of superfast broadband. Just last week, the Minister for Digital met the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity to discuss broadband roll-out and the delays that we have seen from the Scottish Government.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Minister (Housing)

May I join the Scottish Secretary in paying tribute to Jimmy Hood? Jimmy was a friend of mine, and a friend of many of us here. He would have appreciated my saying that he was a bear of a man, and our Parliament was better for him and his kind.

On broadband roll-out, the Prime Minister recently told the House that the Government intend to work through Scottish local authorities. Will the Secretary of State tell us exactly how he will work with local authorities to ensure that, as we roll out broadband, it is delivered to the homes, communities and businesses that are not yet properly connected?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. The Minister for Digital made it very clear that his approach to local authorities was based on the fact that the Scottish Government, who previously had responsibility for the roll-out, are three years behind on rolling out broadband in Scotland, and that is not good enough for people living in any of Scotland’s local authority areas. The Minister and I believe that local authorities will give greater priority and expertise to this task than the Scottish Government, which is why we are engaging with them.

Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Conservative, Carlisle

Does the Secretary of State agree that the borderlands initiative is a real opportunity to ensure that digital connectivity in that area is greatly improved, which will enhance the economy of the borderlands area?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Connectivity is at the heart of the proposal that the five cross-border local authorities have brought forward in the borderlands package. My hon. Friend will be aware that the original intention for the roll-out of broadband in Scotland was to focus on the south of Scotland but, in their centralising way, the SNP Scottish Government put a stop to that.

Photo of Gerard Killen Gerard Killen Labour/Co-operative, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

I echo the Secretary of State’s comments about Jimmy Hood, who will be sadly missed by all on this side of the House.

Superfast broadband is very important for those who want to access banking. There are now more cash machines in this House than there are on Cambuslang Main Street in my constituency. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Royal Bank of Scotland about its programme of branch closures?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

I very much accept the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. It is not good enough for RBS to say that people can rely on internet and mobile banking when so many people in Scotland do not have access to the internet or effective mobile services. When I meet the Royal Bank tomorrow, I will convey the concerns—I think from across the House—about its programme of closures.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice)

In an area that is entirely reserved, the UK Government allocation of £21 million to Scotland’s R100 programme—the Reaching 100% programme—is less than the amount that Devon and Somerset received. Is the Secretary of State not ashamed that, on his watch, he has allowed Scotland to be so chronically underfunded?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

This is not even about funding; it is about spending the money and taking action to roll out broadband. Three years ago—I repeat, three years ago—there was an allocation of funding, and no action has been taken to procure the roll-out.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Does the Secretary of State not think the Scottish Conservatives should just stop embarrassing themselves on the issue of broadband? Thanks to the added value of the Scottish Government’s investment, we have the fastest broadband roll-out in the whole of the UK. Without that investment, only 41% of premises in my constituency would have access to fibre broadband; instead, 82% have. In the Secretary of State’s constituency, the figure is 80% instead of 39%. Perhaps the Scottish Conservatives should avail themselves of Scottish broadband and google how not to embarrass themselves in this House?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

If anyone has embarrassed himself, it is the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, who sent out 35 tweets to tell people what a good job he was doing. The First Minister of Scotland sent my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair a seven-tweet thread to tell her what a good job she was doing. People up and down Scotland who do not receive adequate broadband services know who is to blame: the Scottish Government.