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Clause 7 - Electronic communications code: the need to promote growth

Part of Growth and Infrastructure Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 29th November 2012.

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Photo of James Morris James Morris Conservative, Halesowen and Rowley Regis 2:15 pm, 29th November 2012

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. There comes a point in a country’s economic life when the Government have a responsibility to drive forward a particularly important part of our infrastructure to build economic growth. Putting more broadband capacity into Britain is a clear economic imperative. Evidence from around the world is clear that countries that are advanced in the spread of superfast broadband can improve their economic competitiveness, compete in a globalised world and a globalised economy and create jobs. We have reached a time in our economic history where we need to make a concerted effort to improve superfast broadband access across the United Kingdom as quickly and as practically as possible to achieve those economic goals.

As other hon. Members have pointed out, the clause introduces a provision to promote economic growth into section 109 of the Communications Act 2003. It does not say that economic growth should be the only consideration that the Secretary of State should take into account when determining where infrastructure should be built. It quite sensibly adds to and updates that section to reflect the importance of economic growth when the Secretary of State is making regulations in relation to this area. It does not supersede other considerations that are laid out in that Act. It merely adds an important economic imperative for Britain as we seek to upgrade our national infrastructure to compete in this globalised economy.

As I pointed out earlier, the impact assessment says that approximately 4.4 million additional homes will receive superfast broadband as a result of this intervention. It states:

“The impact of this is improved access to superfast broadband for up to 4.375m households, most of which will be in more suburban and rural areas where the commercial case for deployment is more challenging under existing rules. Greater access in these communities will help diversify the local economy and enable greater growth than without this improved infrastructure.”

The hon. Lady pointed to the evidence presented to us by the Broadband Stakeholder Group, by Mrs Pamela Learmonth. The hon. Lady was a little selective in what she quoted. Mrs Learmonth said:

BT has said that some 2,500 cabinets have been taken out of their programmes as a result of the current planning regime…we think that the changes can make a real impact on the ground and ensure that the connectivity gets out there as efficiently as possible. At the moment, there can be some inconsistency between planning authorities.”

She then refers to anecdotal evidence. She was not referring to BT’s clear statement of the impact of the current regime on their inability to roll out 2,500 cabinets as quickly as possible. She said:

“We have some anecdotal evidence of people being asked for fees even justto meet local authorities to discuss where cabinets are to be sited. These sorts of things will naturally get in the way of an efficient and quick roll-out.”––[Official Report, Growth and Infrastructure Public Bill Committee, 20 November 2012; c. 109, Q254.]