Rural Communities in Scotland: Broadband — [Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 22nd November 2017.

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Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk 9:30 am, 22nd November 2017

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the roll-out of broadband to rural communities in Scotland.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. One of the biggest issues raised with me as Member of Parliament for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk is the poor or non-existent broadband service that many of my constituents have to endure. In my maiden speech in the House of Commons in June, I committed to pursuing better broadband for all my constituents. I am therefore pleased to have secured today’s debate on a topic that affects so many people in the Scottish borders.

We bank, shop, make travel plans, watch TV and speak to relatives on the other side of the world on the internet, so a reliable superfast broadband connection is essential. Superfast broadband is not a luxury. I view it as a fundamental service to which everyone should be entitled to have access. Having superfast broadband is comparable to being connected to the mains electricity, water or gas supply. It is also essential to allowing businesses to operate and to advertise, and to allowing farming businesses to manage essential paperwork. The model of how people do business has changed. Yes, the large employers and multinationals are still based in our bigger towns and cities, but increasingly a large part of our country’s economic activity is undertaken by micro- businesses outwith the urban environment—people working from home and people working in their attic or garden shed. More importantly for the purposes of this discussion, this economic activity is happening in some of the most remote parts of our country.

In my area of the Scottish borders, successful businesses operate at the end of farm tracks at the top of the Ettrick valley, in the Lammermuirs above Duns, or in the foothills of the Cheviots, south of Kelso. The opportunity to set up a business in a rural area should not be limited for lack of a good broadband service. The attractiveness of moving to rural Scotland, either to live or to set up a business, should not be diminished because of inadequate broadband connectivity.

My constituency is in the bottom 30 constituencies for average broadband speeds. I suspect that we will hear from hon. Members representing other constituencies towards the bottom of that list too. According to figures from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, 45% of my constituents receive slow internet speeds. The House of Commons Library briefing paper for this debate states that Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk ranks 621st out of the 650 constituencies in the United Kingdom for superfast broadband availability. Indeed, two council wards in my constituency—Mid Berwickshire, and Jedburgh and District—have superfast availability below 50%, which puts them in the bottom 10% of wards for that in Great Britain.

That is backed up by a broadband survey that I recently carried out across the Scottish borders. Hundreds of responses were sent in—I had never seen such numbers before. Of those who responded, 71% said that their broadband speeds were slower than 10 megabits per second, and 80% said that they were unhappy with their broadband service. More than half of respondents said that they used their broadband connection for business, and only a handful of these respondents said that they were happy with their service. In this day and age, that is just not acceptable.

Who is responsible? It is of course true that legislative competence for broadband is reserved to the UK Parliament. Indeed, when official figures show that Scotland is lagging behind the rest of the United Kingdom for broadband roll-out, the Scottish National party Members and their colleagues in the Scottish Parliament like to jump up and down and blame the UK Government, but they do not like to remind us that the Scottish Government have the task of delivering superfast broadband in Scotland and implementing UK Government targets to improve broadband.