HC Deb 20 April 2004 vol 420 cc152-3
23. Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of the impact of broadband access on the Government's delivery of its e-Government strategy. [166191]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Douglas Alexander)

The UK currently has the third most competitive and extensive broadband network in the G7. Broadband can drive higher take-up of e-government services, as broadband users are around twice as likely to transact online than their narrowband counterparts. Broadband also offers the potential to deliver new and more sophisticated public services, which is why we as a Government are investing more than £1 billion in the period from 2003 to 2006.

Mr. Connarty


Mr. Speaker

Order. The noise level in the Chamber is far too high, and that is unfair.

Mr. Connarty

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Broadband access is an important topic. If everyone is to have access to the Government's e-agenda, everyone needs to be on broadband, because that is the future of the technology. I note that the Chancellor said that there were rules against state aid, which prevent the development of the market. Is it not time that the Government considered a commitment to 100 per cent. access to broadband in all parts of the UK, and challenged the European Union if it tries to prevent appropriate state aid being made available to brine that about?

Mr. Alexander

I know of my hon. Friend's concern about the matter and his tireless work on behalf of his constituents. It is worth pointing out for the sake of perspective that there are 40,000 new connections to broadband taking place each week. At the end of February 2004, research revealed that the UK had reached an estimated 3,523,350 broadband customers. That is tremendous progress. I shall bear my hon. Friend's comments in mind and pass them on to the Chancellor in due course.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con)

Broadband access in rural areas is essential. It is a lifesaver for hard-smitten rural economies, and the Government are not moving fast enough in that regard. For example, can the Minister explain why, when it comes to the delivery of e-local government services, there are no grants available for parish councils and town councils?

Mr. Alexander

The hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware that there is the £30 million UK broadband fund, which is taking forward that work. I find it intriguing, to say the least, that a party that seems to support a reduction in the funding for the Department of Trade and Industry is simultaneously pleading for more money for broadband in its members' constituencies.