Amendment 44A

Part of Agriculture Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 17th September 2020.

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Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Non-affiliated 2:30 pm, 17th September 2020

My Lords, it is a pleasure to move Amendment 44A. In doing so, I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for her support. The amendment is incredibly straight- forward. It would enable farmers and all those in our rural communities to have the broadband connectivity and digital skills to operate confidently in that space.

As we have seen through the Covid crisis, our farmers have been on the front line in so many ways, filling in for long supply chains that should, in many ways, probably not have been that length in the first place. Our farmers have absolutely stepped up. Although they have been on the front line, they have often found it impossible to be online. The National Farmers Union broadband survey last year showed that 15% of those in our rural communities had no indoor broadband connectivity at all, and a shocking 36% could say they had only adequate broadband cover.

As we have also seen through the Covid crisis, it is not just the economic imperative to be online; there is a social and psychological dimension. Not only have our farmers not been able to run their businesses efficiently and effectively, the social dimension of keeping in contact with friends and family, and the psychological difficulties often felt with the remoteness of rural communities, have been brought home only too strongly through the Covid crisis.

Amendment 44A would put an end to this parlous position when it comes to broadband, digital connectivity and digital literacy. Earlier this year, in response to the EFRA Select Committee inquiry on broadband conductivity, the Government said that they had in principle put £5 billion in and would look at a shared rural broadband network. It was talked of in principle and intention. How do the Government intend to put that into will?

It is not just good soil and good farm management that produce our fabulous food, fruit and horticulture products but having high-speed broadband and the confidence and digital skills to operate in cyberspace as much as across the fields of the United Kingdom. We must demonstrate that we are all in this together. That means providing a level of broadband and digital literacy for all our farmers and all those in our rural communities. Does my noble friend the Minister agree? If the Government are not up for supporting the amendment, will she say how they intend to get the best out of all our rural communities, not least our farmers, to deliver on the levelling-up agenda and to drive economic, social and psychological benefits for our farmers and all those across our rural communities? I beg to move.