HC Deb 02 July 2003 vol 408 cc370-2
4. Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire)

What recent discussions he has had with (a) ministerial colleagues and (b) National Assembly Secretaries on progress in rolling out broadband services in West Wales. [122064]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I meet ministerial colleagues and we have regular bilateral meetings with National Assembly Ministers; we have discussed broadband, among other subjects. I have invited British Telecom to make a presentation on broadband at the Wales Office, and I have invited all Members of Parliament representing Welsh seats, including the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), to join us on that occasion, when colleagues may learn more about broadband in Wales.

Mrs. Lawrence

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Milford Haven, which is the largest town in my constituency, is due to go live with broadband on 24 September. That is an important economic development for my constituency, but bearing in mind the £100 million that the Assembly has provided for roll-out of broadband in Wales, will he have discussions with Ministers in the Assembly and with his colleagues here to try to get the roll-out extended to smaller towns such as Fishguard, given the economic development potential?

Mr. Touhig

I certainly welcome the roll-out of broadband in Milford Haven. I am advised that Fishguard has in fact hit its target for broadband and can expect the broadband exchange to be rolled out within the next three months.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire)

The IT revolution was meant to be the means of ensuring that rural Wales could take part in the economic growth that the rest of the nation enjoys, but rural parts of west Wales and mid-Wales have still yet to receive broadband. [Interruption.] Will the Minister consider the use of satellite technology to get broadband to rural areas, and particularly to Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain, which is in the Liberal Democrat-held constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik)? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Before the Minister replies, I should point out that the Chamber is getting far too noisy. That always seems to happen at this time on a Wednesday.

Mr. Touhig

I think that it is the attraction of Welsh questions, Mr. Speaker.

My colleagues in the Assembly are looking at maximising the use of objective 1 funding for two major projects. The first is aimed at supporting a range of innovative local and regional projects, and the second at increasing broadband availability in areas that are unlikely to be enabled, such as the rural community to which the hon. Gentleman refers. If he joins us at the Wales Office for the British Telecom presentation, he can pursue the matter further and perhaps we will have some good news for him.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy)

My hon. Friend will be aware that approximately 44 per cent. of the population of Wales are now covered by the asymmetric digital subscriber line service, but is he also aware that certain pockets in my constituency, for example, do not receive this service? Will he use his good offices to try to improve this service in the near future?

Mr. Touhig

Yes, indeed. Sixty-one of Wales's 440 telephone exchanges are now ADSL-enabled, and a further 26 exchanges will reach the trigger level shortly. I shall certainly take up my hon. Friend's point, but I invite her, too, to join us at the presentation at the Wales Office, when these matters can be put directly to British Telecom.