Superfast Broadband — [Mark Pritchard in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:37 pm on 24th June 2015.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 3:37 pm, 24th June 2015

Since the Rhondda is often described as semi-rural or semi-urban, I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman and—sitting next to him—the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, which is having one’s cake and eating it. However, the points are well made. In the end, universality is what we are trying to achieve, which is what we are not achieving as yet.

Simon Hoare made a worrying point about BT’s aggressive bidding process. I hope that BT will have heard it. I am sure it will: there is probably someone from BT sitting in the Public Gallery, or watching on TV or via broadband. Who knows—perhaps they have superfast. But the hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to talk about filling in the gap.

Mr Williams has one of the worst sets of problems of all 646 constituencies. His points are well made and I hope the Minister will be able to answer them. My hon. Friend Sue Hayman is a new colleague who, like many others, is already raising matters of significant concern to her constituents. I am sure she will continue to do so, and we hope to hear from the Minister on them. Nusrat Ghani made important points about the access network. Since we politicians are not necessarily experts in every aspect of technology, we sometimes get focused on broadband speeds to the detriment of some of the other aspects of competition that also affect the subject.

I was slightly nervous about an SNP Member sitting behind me—at my back, as it were—Ian Blackford. I kept thinking of Andrew Marvell and “always at my back I hear the SNP horribly near”. However, the hon. Gentleman made some important points. If he can act as my PPS, that will be very helpful in these debates.

We all agree on the centrality of superfast broadband. That is absolutely clear. For home entertainment, many people now watch television via broadband, including—ironically enough, since much of this is being funded out of the licence fee—the BBC iPlayer. Also, children might be upstairs watching television programmes, playing audio-visual games on tablets, using Spotify and so on. The NHS relies on broadband not only for the booking of appointments, but for passing notes from doctors to hospitals and for the examination of X-rays, often in other parts of the world. Schools and children being able to do their homework have already been referred to. Of course, increasingly, the Department for Work and Pensions wants to move to a model where everything is done on the internet, which will require superfast broadband and reliable connections.

The creative industries now represent one in 12 jobs in this country. We can add value and guarantee our economic future by supporting our creative industries. Superfast broadband with speeds of at least 24 megabits per second, and I suspect considerably more in future, is going to be important to our economic future. It is in a sense a utility as important and as essential as electricity.

We all agree that some significant progress has been made, but the symbolic fact that so many Members from all political parties are here on behalf of our constituents is an indication to the Minister that not enough progress has been made. Phase one and phase two of the project aims to get to 95% of all premises by 2017. I originally thought that it would be the beginning of 2017. Since the Government had originally said it would be by May 2015, that was a legitimate expectation, but the Government are now talking about the end of 2017 for that target to be met.

The hon. Member for Eddisbury referred to the fact that some people still cannot even get the 2 megabits per second. That is a dramatic problem for people running the most basic of businesses that have to relate to the wider world, because everybody has at least a website and some means of getting in touch with a business online.

Our original target of 2012 has not been met, and the Government bear a measure of responsibility for that. I noticed earlier that the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness referred to Prime Minister’s questions. I have heard the Prime Minister referring to the mobile infrastructure project many times. Some £150 million is devoted to it. It is meant to get to 60,000 properties, but, so far, it has got to just 1% of those in three years. so I think that the hands-off approach has not been suitable.