It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I say that to all the chairmen, but in your case I really mean it. You have your own experience of the broadband roll-out programme, because your Labour council refused to take part in the phase 1 programme; having seen how successful phase 1 has been, it has now, I gather, set up to take part in phase 2. That is down explicitly to the actions of the brilliant Conservative MPs in the area, who persuaded the Labour council to come on board the programme and connect 8,000 premises that otherwise would not have been connected.
I do not know whether to congratulate my hon. Friend Matt Warman on securing this debate, but I should thank him for bringing so many hon. Friends and colleagues here to support me this afternoon on a complex and difficult programme. I certainly thank him for the email he circulated earlier today:
“You may be interested to know that in my own county of Lincolnshire, BT’s rollout is ahead of schedule and well under budget.”
I think that that is true in many areas.
I shall give a brief history of time on behalf of my hon. Friends. Everyone knows that when we came into government, we found that the previous Labour Government did not have a plan to help get broadband out. They talked about a 2 megabit commitment for the end of 2012, but they had not put anything in place for that. My right hon. Friend Mr Hunt, when he was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, rightly decided that we had to push further and go for superfast broadband from the get-go. He knew full well that, if we had rolled out 2 megabits, I might have been able to stand up in this Chamber and say that we had achieved that, but all hon. Members would be screaming for superfast broadband. He made the right decision.
We set out that phase 1 would cover 90% of UK premises and on many occasions I had to appear in front of Margaret Hodge, the then Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, following various National Audit Office reports, and hear that we would not make that target. Indeed, I recall that some journalists in the sector thought that the target was too stretching and could not be achieved. However, lo and behold, by the end of 2015—or early-2016 at the latest—we will have reached it. In fact, we will shortly announce that we will have exceeded 3 million premises, as the figures are increasing by 40,000 premises a week.
This is a complex engineering job that does not involve simply turning up at a doorstep and flicking a switch. An expensive cabinet, which needs power, needs to be put in and then it needs fibre run from it back to the exchange. All of that requires highways, planning and power.