Broadband in Wales — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:53 pm on 6th July 2016.

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Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn 2:53 pm, 6th July 2016

The hon. Gentleman and I were on different sides of the debate—I was a strong remainer and he was not—and I think he has misunderstood what BT said. It said that the Welsh Government wanted greater coverage in the contract, and that was the reason for the slow-up. Coverage was needed, so BT needed to get to as many properties as possible in urban areas. That was why the rural areas were left behind. Even with his anti-European ways, he is stretching it a little bit to blame the EU on this occasion. I am quite happy to lay blame, and on this occasion it lay with the contract between BT and the Welsh Government.

BT would have liked to roll the scheme out across the whole country. It advertised it by telling many people in rural areas of Wales that broadband would be rolled out to them by 2015 and 2016, but for a commercial reason that has not happened. They have been left at the back of the queue, and I do not think that is fair, because rural areas are already suffering in many ways. I keep saying, because it is true, that the areas where there are poor broadband services and speeds are those where there is poor mobile signal as well. In London, if someone cannot get broadband or is without it for a few days or weeks, they can rely on 4G. In many rural areas in Wales that is not possible. We want to get BT linked up with EE, and I know the Minister has been involved in that. There is the possibility of homes getting a TV, landline and mobile phone package, and such packages will improve in the future.

The issue I most want to raise with the Minister is the new Digital Economy Bill. I very much welcome it, as I did when I spoke in the Queen’s Speech debate. In many arguments with me, the Minister used to say that a slow-speed universal obligation was a ridiculous idea and would not be needed, and that the Government were going for top-speed. All of a sudden that is now the Prime Minister’s flagship policy, and to secure his legacy in history we are at last going to have a universal service obligation. Because he is a professional, the Minister has gone from arguing with me to taking full credit for that—he says that it was his idea all along. He was listening to us in those debates, arguing with us and then going away and putting pressure on the Prime Minister to ensure that we got a universal service obligation.