My Lords, I warmly welcome this debate. The country faces the triple challenge in the next decade of the threat of climate change, the deepest recession for generations and the health challenges of Covid, all of which will exacerbate existing inequalities. I support much of what other noble Lords have said and will focus my remarks on the vital theme of digital inclusion.
As we discovered through the pandemic, the key to much of life in lockdown has been digital access—in churches, charities, schools, universities and business. As the Government recognise, one of the keys to a cleaner and sustainable economy is a fair and ethical digital sector, but it is the key responsibility of government to ensure equal access for all. The government report exploring the UK’s digital divide is to be welcomed, as is the DCMS industrial partnership through DevicesDotNow, announced in April, to provide equipment and access to as many as possible of the 1.9 million UK households without internet access.
However, the digital divide in this country was already substantial before the exacerbating effects of Covid-19. Only 47% of low-income households have broadband internet at home. Britain is ranked only 34th in the world in the broadband speed league. Brad Smith likens rural broadband to electricity. A fair, clean and more sustainable economy depends on possibility, not just affordability, of access. When will the Government commit to making digital access a fundamental right as essential as access to home heat and safe drinking water? Does the Minister agree that a post-Covid economy that lacks fast and affordable internet access for all cannot be fairer, cleaner or more sustainable?