There have been 6 exchanges between Helen Whately and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
|Thu 13th February 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||19 interactions (536 words)|
|Thu 16th January 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||36 interactions (1,099 words)|
|Wed 8th January 2020||SPAC Nation||12 interactions (1,714 words)|
|Thu 13th December 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (92 words)|
|Thu 21st June 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (65 words)|
|Mon 10th July 2017||Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill||36 interactions (2,851 words)|
Too many people have had their lives turned upside down by gambling addiction, so I commend the Minister for her decision to ban people from gambling using credit cards—essentially gambling with money they do not have—but what more will the Government do to tackle the scourge of problem gambling? We have probably all seen constituents in surgeries who have had their lives ruined by this terrible problem.
As chair of the all-party group for gambling related harm, I am delighted that the Government have adopted so many of our recommendations over the last 18 months. Our latest one is that we would very much like to see no gambling advertising in sports activities. Will the Minister agree that this is a way forward?
The 2018 gaming machines review, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the NHS lead on mental health, the Children’s Commissioner and many Members of the House have expressed concerns about loot boxes, skins and e-gaming. What discussions has the Minister had with the Gambling Commission about it exercising its powers to safeguard young gamers from gambling?
The gambling arena currently resembles the wild west. This is resulting in increased harm and even suicides. Rather than tinkering around the edges of the Gambling Act, will the UK Government rip it up and write a new one fit for the 21st century and in doing so engage with those people with lived experience?
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Carshalton and Wallington was left as nearly the only part of London that did not have a local theatre, so will the Minister join me in thanking and congratulating the team at CryerArts, a local community group which has stepped up and saved the Cryer in Carshalton to promote local artists?
In order to ensure the future of local theatres, what conversations is the Minister having with counterparts in the Department for Education to ensure that all children are given access to high-quality performing arts education from a young age?
I thank the Minister for her response. As she will know, in constituencies such as mine, the tourist industry is heavily based on our industrial heritage and history. The Chesterfield Canal Trust is midway through a restoration to celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2027; it is restoring the final nine miles of the canal. May I invite my hon. Friend to visit the Chesterfield canal to see the fantastic tourist offer in North East Derbyshire?
As you are well aware, Mr Speaker, Fylde is at the heart of the Lancashire riviera, with fabulous beaches and world-class golf courses. With inadequate transport infrastructure, however, people struggle to access it. What representation is the Minister making in Government to ensure that people can visit our seaside gems?
Putting rivieras to one side, the Windsor constituency enjoys 7 million visitors a year and I would say it is one of the most attractive constituencies in the entire country. Yes, we are known for military and monarchy, but we also have two race courses—Ascot and Windsor—and two barracks, with regular parades in Windsor town centre. We have magnificent buildings such as Windsor castle and Windsor Great Park, as well as Legoland, which all our children enjoy. Does the Minister agree that investment in public transport and links to places outside London would make a huge difference when we are drawing tourists into parts of the country that are not the capital?
Many of our northern towns have great tourist attractions, such as Norton priory in Runcorn and the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre in Widnes. What is the Minister doing to ensure there is more focus on getting tourism into our northern towns, not just concentrating on cities?
I do not need to tell everyone in this place how beautiful Edinburgh is and how important it is to the tourism industry in this country generally. However, with our departure from the European Union, it will face a problem, not just day-to-day in the hospitality industry but every August with the festival; there is the issue of visas for foreign nationals coming from other EU countries. What will the Government do to ensure that important events, such as the Edinburgh International Festival, are not damaged by Brexit?
My hon. Friend will know that north Wales is one of the pre-eminent tourist destinations in the country, with over 30 million visits per annum. Increasingly, the area is specialising in adventure tourism, with such attractions as Plas Menai and the world’s only inland surfing lagoon. Is she willing to meet me and representatives of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board to discuss the possibility of creating an adventure tourism zone in north Wales?
I thank the Minister for her answer. She is right to highlight the one-off and capital funding that has been available. That is welcome, but she will know that the key challenges our regional museums face are the fall in revenue funding; extra inflationary pressures in the year ahead; and the continuing imbalance in funding between London and the regions. Does she agree that the Arts Council should do more to rebalance revenue funding for arts and culture towards the regions? Will she agree to meet me and the chief executive of Museums Sheffield, ideally at one of our excellent museums, to discuss the challenges they face?
16. What steps the Government are taking to protect UNESCO world heritage sites throughout the world. 
Of course we are concerned about the destruction of cultural sites due to conflict. Any attack on one of these sites is an attack on our shared global history, but when we have President Trump tweeting one thing and his advisers saying the opposite, can we really trust the assurances that these sites will not be targeted in conflict?
The lack of direct condemnation of Donald Trump’s threats by either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary was actually pretty shameful. Putting to one side for just a moment the Government’s desperate need for a US trade deal, will the Minister do what her colleagues have failed to do and unequivocally condemn the White House and President Trump for his reckless and provocative threats?
I am sure that we are all comforted to know that the Secretary of State is watching us from the Gallery. Further to the questions from my colleagues, the next time the Minister speaks with the Secretary of State, who has been elevated to the Lords and so is beyond the reach of elected Members down here, will she ask whether she has had a firm guarantee from President Trump that he has withdrawn his threat? It is not enough to condemn the threat; has he withdrawn it and given that assurance?
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My father used to enjoy a weekly 10 bob yankee down the bookies, but he would have been appalled at the sheer volume of advertising and the dodgy practices that are going on in picking on vulnerable people in relation to gambling. The Government seem to be following rather than leading events in this regard, with today’s intervention from the NHS leadership adding to that. When are the Government going to introduce the new gambling Bill that is so long overdue? Will the Minister tell us that right now?
T2. Many people have had their lives ruined by a gambling addiction, so I commend my hon. Friend for her decision to ban people from gambling using credit cards and therefore using money that they often do not have. What other steps are the Government taking to deal with the scourge of problem gambling? 
T3. It is six months to the day since the Government announced that the limits on charity lotteries would be raised, but to the frustration of charities and good causes, nothing has been done and they are losing millions of pounds of potential funding. Could the Minister perhaps text the Public Gallery and ask the Secretary of State when this will be done? 
T5. While I warmly welcome the pledge to deliver gigabit broadband, many of my constituents in Grimston, Heacham, Brancaster and other places have yet to receive speeds of 10 megabits per second. Will the Minister confirm that the plans are ready to deliver minimum speeds from March, and that the Government will hold BT to account to do that? 
As always, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I agree with every word he says.
What concerns me further are the worrying echoes of the Rotherham child abuse scandal. In that case, vulnerable young girls’ allegations of serious abuse were dismissed because they came from poor or difficult backgrounds, and it is the same with SPAC Nation. I cannot help wondering, as one desperate mum told me: if this was happening to white middle-class children, would it have been ignored for so many years? Would it have been allowed to go on in this way? We need to address that question, because it is a real feeling and concern in the community. In my opinion, SPAC Nation is a criminal enterprise masquerading as a Church, because that gives it access to vulnerable young people and cover for exploiting them.
I would like to say this to every young person who is afraid or at risk from SPAC Nation’s activities tonight. This organisation might seem powerful, but we are stronger and we are on your side. Collectively, we will not stop until every young person is safe. We will not stop until the wrongdoers inside SPAC Nation have been brought to justice. And we will not stop until this dangerous, manipulative organisation can do no more harm.
The Minister may agree that this is an important issue in terms of the safeguarding of young people, but the reality is that this is still happening now to a number of young people, not just in London but across other cities, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed). Is there not something the Government can do now to investigate some of these serious allegations, whereby a number of young people continue to be exploited?
Forgive me if I am being ignorant on this point, but the Minister has asked my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) to raise this with the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, if he has not already done so. The Home Office is the Government’s responsibility and this sounds to me like a Home Office issue that the Government need to look into, so will she clarify whether or not this is an issue that the Home Office should be addressing?
I did not mean to put the Minister in a difficult position or to be disingenuous in any way; I am just concerned. Given the severity and volume of the allegations, and the type of allegations that we are hearing, can nothing further be done, perhaps by the Government working with the police and crime commissioners, wherever that may be necessary, or with the police forces, wherever that may be necessary, to prevent this organisation, even if only temporarily, from being able to stand outside school gates and youth centres and target young people? I would be happy to work collaboratively with the Minister and her colleagues to seek an answer to that—I understand that I have not given warning of that question this evening—but if there were some way for us to look at working together to prevent any more young lives being destroyed, even while investigations are going on, I would be immensely grateful.
I thank the Minister for giving way. She is being very generous. The Charity Commission can often move very slowly, and given the seriousness of the allegations, would it not be possible to suspend charitable status while the investigations are going ahead? Considering other charities that deal with young people from memory, I am aware that this has happened in the past.
No, of course not, because that has not happened. Let me just say again to the right hon. Gentleman that he is positing a hypothetical situation. It has not happened. It is important that the BBC gets the chance to consider the right way forward. All that he says about the importance of television to those who are elderly, particularly those who are lonely, is quite right, but no decision has been made yet. It is right to give the BBC the space in which to make it. That is the right way forward.
Tourism is an incredibly important part of the UK’s economy, generating approximately £68 billion and employing over 1.5 million people. Visit Britain and the GREAT campaign, backed by Government support, continue to successfully promote the UK internationally. The House will know that the Government will now take forward into formal negotiations a tourism sector deal which will benefit tourism across the country. That is the result of a good deal of hard work by people across the tourism sector and, if may I say so, others including my hon. Friend the tourism Minister.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important matter. It is vital that anyone engaging in such transactions does so in full possession of the information they need and understands the consequences of their decisions. No one should be taken advantage of in this way. She will understand that this is a matter predominantly for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which has policy responsibility in this area, but I will certainly discuss it with colleagues there. We will see what more we can do.
Cyber-space is an integral part of the rules-based international order, and there must be boundaries of acceptable state behaviour in cyber-space, just as there are everywhere else. In my speech on this subject at Chatham House on 23 May, I underlined that hostile actors cannot take action by cyber means without consequence, both in peacetime and in times of conflict.
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I can confirm that, and my hon. Friend and the House will know that, where it is possible and appropriate to attribute these cyber-attacks to nation states, that is exactly what we do. He and others will recall the attack on, among others, a number of NHS institutions, which we were able to attribute to the North Koreans. We have done so again in relation to the Russians, and that is entirely right because nation states should be held to account for what they do.
Yes, I do agree. We should recognise the progress that has been made, difficult though it is. In 2015, 20 nation states agreed that the provisions of the UN charter should apply in cyber-space. Included among those 20 nation states were Russia and China, so we have been able to make some progress. In the end, every nation state takes responsibility for its own actions, and it is right that the UK gives leadership where it can.
May I welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker? It is a pleasure to see you in your rightful place. I wish to take this opportunity to welcome my shadow Communities and Local Government team: my hon. Friends the Members for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) and for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), and my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan), who has today agreed to act as my PPS.
The Opposition cautiously welcome the Government’s apparent commitment to provide financial relief for all new investment in full-fibre internet for five years. In the course of my speech, I shall set out why I say “cautiously”. Until the intervention from the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), the Minister had waxed lyrical for twenty minutes before coming to business rate relief, which is the subject of this very short Bill.
The Opposition welcome the opportunity finally to discuss a crucial piece of infrastructure policy—a policy that will have a huge impact on the potential investment opportunities for all our communities over the coming decades. It is rather ironic that we are talking about IT connections on a day when pretty much all the parliamentary internet connection is down. I have it on good assurance that the parliamentary information and communications technology officers are busily trying to reconnect MPs to the internet and their email accounts.
All Members will know that the policy in the Bill will affect every part of the country—north or south; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; urban or rural—so we have to get this right. I am sure Members will feel that acutely today as we and our staff struggle with the collapse of internet connection across the Westminster estate which I just mentioned.
We were expecting a larger, more substantial Bill, not least considering the scope of investment and certainty needed not only for full-fibre infrastructure but on business rates more widely. However, it appears that the Government have been in permanent listening mode for quite some time now, which would explain their decision to acquiesce in the concerns of independent and large internet providers who at the end of last year faced an excessive fourfold increase in their rateable values.
The UK’s main providers and the Broadband Commission have estimated that UK 5G infrastructure will outstrip the economic benefits of fibre broadband, which most of the country currently uses, by 2026, when it will be outdated. By 2026, therefore, the UK will reach a tipping point where the direct economic benefits of new 5G optical fibre internet will beat the conventional fibre broadband. Various estimates point to a boost to the UK economy of between £5 billion to £7 billion just six years from roll-out, with 5G broadband delivering economic growth almost twice as quickly as conventional fibre broadband used today. Much as with our railways and road links, the quicker the connection, the faster businesses will grow, particularly in an age when online sales, social media and direct online contact with buyers and sellers are becoming the norm.
A study by O2 has revealed that national 5G infrastructure will also add an extra £3 billion a year through secondary supply chain impacts, boosting overall UK productivity by a total of £10 billion, which, as I have already said, makes good, sound economic sense. With improved connectivity comes greater economic growth, more jobs and improved links between business hubs and individuals alike. Although today’s Bill will be welcomed by larger providers in the sector as it will relieve some of the burden that they face from increased business rates—£60 million is on offer, which is a big giveaway to them—I worry that it will do not as much as it should for the independent providers, and it will not come close to mitigating the fourfold increase that all providers have faced. Perhaps the Minister can give us some assurances when he winds up the debate. Providers are not the only ones who need assurances; consumers do, too, and they need to know that those costs will not be passed on to them.
Additionally, I am slightly disappointed that this Bill contains only partial measures, instead of the more detailed and wide-ranging set of proposals that were outlined in the Local Government Finance Bill, of which these measures were originally a part. I mention that Bill, which had successfully passed through Committee, as it included proposals on local business rate retention for local authorities as well as the legislation for business rate relief for new full-fibre broadband, which we are now discussing today. However, those fuller measures seem to have disappeared since the general election.
Since that election, I have asked the Secretary of State on three separate occasions about the progress that has been made on delivering business rate retention for local authorities. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), has something to say on that. He can intervene on me now or respond in his closing remarks. I ask him again: what is happening to retention and why has business rate relief for new 5G connectivity now been separated into this smaller, separate Bill?
As I have said, I have written to the Secretary of State about this matter and I await his response, although I hope that, by this stage, the Department will do less listening and more acting on this issue of business rate retention. In the spirit of the cross-party co-operation that the Prime Minister is now asking for, and in respect of the exchange of ideas and genuine dialogue between the Opposition and the Government, I suggest that perhaps we can work together on a shared future for local government finance. The local government sector deserves more than a policy and a financial black hole with which it is currently faced with the exclusion of the Local Government Finance Bill from the Queen’s Speech. At the same time, the Government are still announcing their intention to remove the revenue support grant. Perhaps the Minister can clarify that when he closes the debate.
The Secretary of State and I visited the LGA conference last week—admittedly we received slightly different receptions. I am sure that he was reminded again and again by representatives from councils of all political colours of the financial certainty that local authorities desperately need—specifically at a time when they have already absorbed budgets cuts of 40%. However, like me, they have received no updates and no certainty. While we are talking about an element of the business rate in this Bill, perhaps we can remind the Secretary of State that local authorities need to have that clarity and certainty for future financial planning. They need some idea from this Government of where the wider business rate policy is going.
I will repeat what I said during my speech to the Local Government Association: “The Secretary of State told local government that they faced a looming crisis in confidence. He’s wrong. It is this Government who are facing a looming crisis in confidence.” The lack of clarity on business rates and the botched business rates revaluations have left thousands of businesses facing cliff-edge increases in their rates. In addition, the Government’s support package and promises to review the revaluation process go nowhere near far enough.
It is clear that business rates are this Department’s ticking time bomb, which threatens to destroy high streets and town centres across the country. Labour advocates introducing statutory annual revaluations to stop businesses facing periodic and unmanageable hikes, and guarantees a fair and transparent appeals process. We will reform business rates, scrap quarterly reporting and end the scourge of late payments, because it is Labour which is the party of business. [Interruption.] Members can heckle, but the facts speak clearly: this Government have let down business and they have let down local government.
Absolutely. Labour would have increased corporation tax to pay for better public services, but our rates would still have been among the lowest in the G20. It is a question of priorities. We can put money where people want it—in a better NHS, in better local government and in better education—or we can have poorly funded public services and tax giveaways to those at the very top. For all its rhetoric about ending austerity, it seems quite clear that the Conservative party has not changed one iota. There was a further omission to this Bill—
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No, I have given way once to the hon. Lady, I will not do so again.
There is a further omission in this Bill—the exclusion of any real and meaningful legislative commitments on growing rural broadband. I am worried that there appears to be absolutely no mention in the body of the Bill or the explanatory notes of growing and expanding the UK’s superfast broadband in our rural areas, although the Minister touched on it and I think there is some consensus about its desirability.
Let me give a short anecdote. Last year, I was privileged to be in a delegation to Zambia for the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly. In the middle of Africa, in the middle of nowhere, on a visit to a health scheme near the Zambezi river, I received an almost-perfect 4G connection to my mobile phone. There are parts of my constituency where I do not get such a perfect 4G connection. We need to look at our internet connections, broadband connections and mobile telephone connections in this country so that we have the very best to support business, consumers and individuals.
As I am sure the Minister is aware, many families living in rural areas struggle to get anything close to fast broadband, let alone 5G, which is what we are discussing today. Many others struggle to get anything above 2 megabits per second, making most average use of day-to-day internet functions incredibly frustrating. The impact on rural businesses is steep, with the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs warning before the 2015 general election that rural communities are being overlooked for potential investment by businesses looking to expand and develop because certain regions have very poor digital connectivity. The then Chair of the Committee, the former Member for Thirsk and Malton, said:
“There is a risk in the current approach that improving service for those who already have it will leave even further behind those who have little or none.”
Rather than taking responsibility for this ever-growing chasm in our technology and identifying specific areas that desperately need investment, the Government have chosen to rely solely on the market to encourage improvements in any given area.
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Will the hon. Lady to let me answer the Minister’s intervention before I take another?
I am grateful to hear that from the Minister, and we will hold the Government to account to ensure that that intervention takes place. As he knows, we are all here to ensure that improvements happen, and if he has given a commitment from the Dispatch Box that he will use his ministerial position to ensure that the market is not a free-for-all and that the Government will ensure those improvements in rural areas, for rural businesses and consumers, the Opposition will support him.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention, because, of course, it was not just the Government who did that. I do not know whether she was a remainer or a leaver, but it would be remiss of the House, whatever our views on Brexit, not to acknowledge the involvement of the European Commission in funding some of the roll-out of this infrastructure and technology. It has come not just from the Government but from others, and we can see the European flag stickers on boxes, cabinets and infrastructure up and down the country.
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I think that is rather churlish of my hon. Friend, given how complimentary I have been about him. I hope that one day I will reach the level of popularity and name recognition in my constituency that Commander Peake has reached in the world.
Small business is becoming increasingly important in rural areas. Some 25% of small businesses—nearly half a million—are located in rural areas, where they provide lots of employment and create wealth. The Bill points to a wider issue with which the House will have to grapple over the next few years—the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) mentioned it—and that is the appropriateness of the business rate system. We are applying a tax first devised in 1572 to a 21st-century economy, much of which exists somewhere in the cloud. The Bill acknowledges at its core the disproportionate impact of business rates on competition in this sector. Those of us who have rural constituencies—indeed, anybody whose constituency contains a high street—understand the disproportionality of business rates for retail businesses, particularly now that more and more people buy things online, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset said. If we are to keep our high streets vibrant, keep our businesses working and maintain the competitiveness of the rural economy against the huge businesses that these days operate from nowhere, I question whether taxing property—frankly, taxing investment and expansion—remains an appropriate way to gather the revenue that we need.
There will come a point, over the next couple of decades, when we have to consider shifting taxation on corporations away from property and profit, and towards turnover. If we taxed the turnover of the large multinationals —the Googles and the Amazons—we would collect more from them than we currently do, but in a fair way. Small shops on the high streets in North West Hampshire compete with corporations that transact in this country, dispatch goods from a second country and book the profits in a third country. We have to think about the asymmetric nature of the taxation of those organisations if we want to create a level playing field for competition.
I welcome the Bill. I welcome the move towards the designation of broadband as a utility and the recognition of the distortive effect of business rates on commerce. I hope that over the next five years or so, many companies will take advantage of the rate relief window. I suspect that at the end of that period it will be somehow extended, and I hope that any such extension will become permanent. I hope that businesses will take advantage of the window and come to North West Hampshire to plaster my entire constituency with broadband fibre, to the cabinet and to the premises, with my pleasure and approval.
I merely wish to correct the record: at no stage have either I or the Labour party said that we want to increase business rates. We want a small increase in corporation tax, which would still result in our having one of the lowest rates of corporation tax in the world.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Was she as shocked as I was to hear the shadow Secretary of State refer to a “small” increase in corporation tax, because the rate Labour would move it to would be almost a 50% increase on the 17% rate that we will have?
On the subject of large increases, given that the hon. Lady would be outraged by a 50% increase, she must be absolutely distraught at the business rates revaluation, which has seen some business rates go up by 200%.
May I take my hon. Friend back to corporation tax? She is absolutely right that the reduction in the rate has seen an increase in tax take. Surely the important thing is to look not at the tax rate, but at the tax take—how much tax is actually raised. The final point she made about jobs is crucial. We see record levels of employment across all our constituencies, which is to be welcomed. That has happened because businesses want to expand and take on more people.
Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) will find an ingenious way of relating the intervention by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) precisely to the Bill. I can see a way of doing it and I am sure she will succeed.
My hon. Friend is being very generous with her time, but before she moves away from 5G, I invite her to reflect on this point. It is important not to leave behind those communities that are yet to clock on to 3G and 4G. I am sure that, in her constituency, as in mine, there are areas where people simply cannot access 3G or 4G. Although 5G is to be welcomed, will she join me in calling on the Government to ensure that those areas are not left behind?
While we are on the subject of notspots and blackout areas, does my hon. Friend agree that there are priority areas such as along railway lines? Many of my constituents commute every day and it is so frustrating not even being able to get a phone signal on the railway line. The Bill will enable extra infrastructure, so that we have connected commuters, which is key in the 21st century.
Let me begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), although he is no longer in the Chamber—and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately)—for being so kind about the work that I have done on broadband. When my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset said that I would not speak in the debate, I was going to leap to my feet like some sort of digital gazelle, but I thought I would keep the House waiting. We have heard several extensive speeches about the many benefits of Government investment in digital infrastructure, but my speech will be somewhat briefer.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent said that some of her constituents were not able to do something as old-fashioned as making a mobile telephone call. Mobile telephone calls are, in our modern world, pretty old-fashioned, but we should not forget that not many years ago they were simply impossible in this place. Since then, we have not only been through the period of the invention of mobile phones; we have been through a period during which all our constituents railed against the installation of mobile phone masts. Now we have come full circle, and they rail against the absence of mobile phone masts. The digital revolution has thoroughly revolved.
I want to make some brief points about the Bill. It seems obvious to me that, although adopting this approach to encouraging digital infrastructure investment means that the Government are forgoing a certain amount of revenue from business rates, their fostering of digital innovation and infrastructure investment will ensure that the amount they get back through the broader benefits of economic growth is many times greater than the amount that the business rates themselves cost the state and the taxpayer. That strikes me as a definition of the way in which the Government should be using public money, pump-priming economic growth to allow the development of an economy that works in the digital way that, as we have heard, our children will expect, and that all modern businesses already expect.
I commend the Government for taking that approach. It is also commendable that, by giving the relief a five-year term—which my right hon. Friend the Minister hinted could even be extended—they are giving firms an incentive to invest in installing fibre now, even if they do not turn it on, so to speak, for a number of years. I hope that we will secure the economies of scale of broader investment while continuing to benefit from business rate relief on that investment. That can only be a good thing, and it also addresses some of the concerns raised by the industry before the introduction of the Bill.
We should bear in mind that the growth in demand for fibre will only increase. When I was a journalist writing about the launch of the iPlayer—the BBC cunningly launched it in Christmas Day, because it knew that demand would be rather more limited—the BBC did not think for one moment that it would itself be broadcasting in 4K come 2016-17. Still less did it think that we would, as a matter of course, live in households in which half a dozen people wanted to download the 4K streams that broadcasters now routinely provide.
It is no small irony that, by all accounts, when Bazalgette built the London sewers he offered quadruple the capacity that was required in Victorian London. Now we see that that quadruple capacity has been more than exhausted by a growing population, and we should take the same approach when it comes to investing in our digital infrastructure. To point out that a prominent Bazalgette is still involved in the life of our digital nation is not in any way to draw a comparison between sewage and the modern digital output with which he is concerned. The huge benefits provided by the man who brought us “Big Brother” and a host of other programmes are not to be described in that way in the slightest degree. All we can say is that this is clearly a family that has contributed a huge amount to the life of our nation, at every level of our infrastructure.
In this day and age, there is never an excuse for underestimating the amount of digital capacity that we will require. Although 4K may appear to be perfectly adequate for our purposes today, we will look back on it in a number of years and see that it is paltry in comparison with what we will be using on a routine basis, whether that involves virtual reality, driverless cars, or all the technologies that will eradicate the digital scourge of fly-parking mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling).
We should not only encourage the Government to proceed with the Bill as quickly as possible, but encourage any Government to ensure that this sort of rate relief applies to investment in digital infrastructure, whether mobile or fixed, thus ensuring—following the launch of the iPlayer not so very long ago—that the internet of things that is now coming upon us will be fully served. That will be thanks to the investment of Governments such as this.