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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 4:00 pm on 29th November 2012.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 4:00 pm, 29th November 2012

Much as I love Felixstowe in my constituency, I cannot pretend that it is a rural town. It is very much an urban town, with the biggest container port in the country; it has certainly developed from its original roots. It was just an example of saying that even in our significant towns, there can be challenges stopping the deployment of fibre optics. It is a concern, and that is why I support the Government on the clause.

I recognise that the Opposition want to see broadband in the countryside. Over half of my constituency is in an AONB. I have sites of special scientific interest, Ramsar sites and special protection areas—frankly, if there is a designation, I have got it, apart from a national park. Meanwhile, we still have to manage deployment of infrastructure, such as nuclear power stations––two are due to be built soon. It is absolutely critical to our economic growth, because without growth, any development that we have is simply unsustainable. That is why I felt that the Opposition’s amendments were unnecessary. Frankly, the two have to go hand in hand.

There has been all sorts of talk about what is appropriate. Normally, broadband cabinets are green. I would love to see the cabinet that the hon. Member for City of Durham referred to. I am not very tall either, but I have not yet seen a cabinet taller than me. Certainly, most are green. We know that a code of practice that will cover the local area will be taken into account. I appreciate that we are not just talking about green woodland or green fields.

BT’s R and D headquarters is in Martlesham, in my constituency. People who work there live in the AONB. I do not foresee the employees of one of the major companies that will be deploying broadband around the country seeking to spoil the landscape where they live. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am not aware of any examples suggested of BT—or indeed Virgin Media, or any other cable provider—putting forward something so inappropriate. Without economic growth, areas will effectively die.

The other reason why broadband in rural areas is particularly important is quality of life. It is not solely about improving business. It is also about improving people’s access to television. We do not have proper transmitters in my part of the world. Everybody else, after the digital switchover, managed to get all sorts of channels, but most people in Suffolk Coastal and the neighbouring constituency managed to get only 15 channels, two of which were Gay Rabbit and Rabbit, which were not exactly wanted. However, the additional communications that come through allowed more residents to switch to internet TV and therefore enjoy the same channels that everyone else receives when they pay exactly the same licence fee. I am not going to start a debate on the licence fee, but considering we receive only about a quarter of the channels that other people do, it could be argued that we should only pay a quarter of the licence fee.

The point has already been made—I appreciate that this is a sensitive topic—that the Government are consulting solely on the fixed line broadband roll out. It is right that they are doing so. After the successful clearance of the state aid hurdle that was undertaken in recent weeks by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke  (Maria Miller), who built on the good work of her civil servants and her predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), a county council such as mine, Suffolk, is ready to sign the contract soon. We hope to have people digging the ground in the next few months. It is right that the Government are focusing on fixed-line broadband.