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Code rights in respect of land connected to leased premises

Part of Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:13 pm on 10th March 2020.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy) 1:13 pm, 10th March 2020

I welcome the Secretary of State to his place. It is somewhat surprising to see him, as my hon. Friend Tracy Brabin had expected to see him in the Commonwealth debate yesterday and I was expecting to see the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Warman today. As I understand it, after saying almost nothing over weeks in his post, the Secretary of State’s first moment at the Dispatch Box may be to reverse completely the Government’s position on part of the Bill. That raises the question: what information has changed and did the Government know what they were doing in the first place?

As we are taking all the amendments together, I shall consider the whole Bill. It is a great pleasure to speak on the Bill as shadow Minister for Digital. I have an interest to declare: before entering the House, I worked as a telecommunications engineer for 23 years, rolling out telecoms infrastructure in countries as diverse as Germany, Nigeria, Britain and Singapore. I am passionate about digital technology and the positive difference it can make; however, the 10 years for which I have been in Parliament have coincided with a rapid decline in the relative quality of our telecoms infrastructure under successive Conservative Administrations. Without the required ambition, this Government risk wasting a decade more.

The UK has a proud technological history, from the earliest days of the industrial revolution to the invention of the first fibre-optic cable and, of course, the worldwide web. That is why it was with such regret that on Second Reading I highlighted the fact that the OECD ranks us 35th out of 37 for broadband connectivity, even though ours is the fifth largest economy, and that 85% of small and medium sized enterprises said that their productivity was adversely affected by unreliable connections in 2019.

Sadly, our wasted 10 years in telecoms have not been limited to fixed infrastructure; both mobile and the online infrastructure of regulation have also been left to languish, reducing the impact of the Bill. Conservative Governments have entrenched the digital divide in the United Kingdom: 11 million adults lack one or more digital skills and 10% of households do not have internet access. At this rate, in 2028 there will be 7 million people without digital skills, which is tantamount to leaving one in 10 of our population permanently disenfranchised. Our part-time Prime Minister has changed his tune—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]