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The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Christopher Leslie): Broadband is a faster "always on" internet system that offers significant new benefits for individuals, businesses and users of public services. The public sector is the largest single consumer of broadband technology, so the Government are actively examining how that purchasing power might lever growth in the market more widely.
Mr. Connarty: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He will have no doubt read in the Financial Times today that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who was speaking in South Korea, has commended the South Korean Government for their programme. They have invested £600 million in constructing a broadband network that is used by 8 million people. In Britain, only 600,000 people use broadband at present. Surely, the Government, who spend £2 billion through their various Departments to procure broadband services, should be getting together to make one procurement order that would, because of their purchasing power, drive up quality and spread the use of broadband. Can the Government not see themselves as a driving force for broadband initiatives if the private sector will not come to our rescue?
Mr. Leslie: My hon. Friend makes entirely the right point. The Government are important not only as a regulator of this industry but as a consumer. A number of different infrastructure sharing opportunities exist, not least the academic networks and the investment that is being made in schools. Broadband is extremely important not because of the technology itself but because of what it can deliver in terms of new opportunities for learning and technology in the internet age.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): The Minister is absolutely right to point out the importance of broadband. However, with the devolution of government to regions outside London, is he aware that broadband is not available widely throughout the United Kingdom? What are the Government going to do about that? Does he recall that the Prime Minister boasted in 1997 that broadband
Mr. Leslie: Much as the hon. Gentleman might want the telecommunications industry to be wholly owned by the Government, the broadband capital investment network is led by industry itself. Although a significant proportion of rural areas in particular are not covered at present, 60 per cent. of the population have potential access to broadband even though only 1 per cent. sign up to it at present.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Christopher Leslie): The role of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office is to co-ordinate efforts across government to improve the effectiveness of civil contingency and emergency planning.
Joan Ryan: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he comment on the role of local authorities in dealing with civil emergencies and tell us whether he has had any contact with them on this issue since the tragic events of 11 September? Furthermore, will he comment on the resource issue that would face a local authority dealing with a civil emergency?
Mr. Leslie: This is a useful opportunity to pay tribute to the many emergency planning officers who work extremely hard in local authorities throughout the country to make sure that our emergency plans are up to date and are regularly exercised. They do a fantastic job. In the light of the events of 11 September, we have updated our guidance and are making sure that we are in regular discussions with local authorities and, in particular, with the Local Government Association.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): For those of us living in Devon, the foot and mouth crisis in the past year came pretty close to a civil emergency. Will the Minister today agree to the Government holding a full public inquiry into the disease so that lessons can be learned for the future, and if not, why not?
Mr. Leslie: As the hon. Gentleman well knows, a number of inquiries are under way into foot and mouth. The Civil Contingencies Secretariat seeks to ensure that all the different Departments that take a lead in tackling such emergencies have improved co-ordination so that we can be more effective in future.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Will my hon. Friend look carefully at the advice that the Civil Aviation Authority has given on overfly zones, in particular on the incidence of aircraft that have been held
Mr. Leslie: I shall certainly discuss with officials the point that my hon. Friend makes. I know that the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has been considering the issue of aviation and the possible vulnerability of key sites, especially major chemical sites, for example. We have to be vigilant and ensure that we reduce vulnerability wherever possible.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire): The Minister may not be aware of a recent incident in Sandy in my constituency when a package that was suspected of containing anthrax caused a full-scale public emergency[Interruption.]
Alistair Burt: In the course of dealing with the necessary decontamination and the obvious personal aspects of that, no woman officer was available in the emergency team, which caused understandable distress. Will the Minister liaise with his colleagues in the Home Office to ensure that there is a solution to that problem, so that women officers are present whenever possible to deal with women who have been evacuated and need decontamination?
Mr. Leslie: This is an extremely important point. The guidance issued to reflect the chemical and biological risk that was perceived to be a problem in respect of postal services needs to include the way in which emergency services respond. There is no specific credible threat at present to the postal service in general, but the Cabinet Office is always reviewing the adequacy of our advice to the authorities on such matters.
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State (Mr. John Prescott): Tackling global poverty will be a key focus of the world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg later this year, better known as the Rio 10 conference. I discussed preparations for the summit on my recent visit to the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Linda Gilroy: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that environmental issues are closely related to tackling poverty, especially with regard to the implementation of the Kyoto protocol? Will he assure the House that he will continue to work on those issues, which are as important to tackling poverty as they are to sustainability issues at home?
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: My hon. Friend rightly highlights the global problems that require global solutions and global travel[Interruption.]whether Opposition Members like that or
The conference on sustainability is not only about the environment, which follows on from the Rio conference, but about how we deal with poverty. Frankly, if we gave as much priority and commitment to dealing with poverty and prosperity as we have rightly given to combating terrorism, the world would be a better place.
Tony Baldry (Banbury): Is it not a sad fact that according to the latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development statistics, the wealthier nations of the world collectively are now spending less in real terms on international development than they were 10 years ago? If we are determined to tackle global poverty, could not the Government at least give a lead by setting a clear date by which they will meet the 0.7 per cent. target of Government wealth to be allocated to international development?
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The hon. Gentleman's point about average spending on aid by all countries is right, but this country's spending has increased. We are showing leadership in that respect. The proportion of spending on aid decreased under the previous Administration. The resources necessary to deal with poverty amount to about £50 billion. At the Monterrey conference in March, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be closely involved in efforts to marshal such support in a new trust fund, which he suggested, so that we can make dealing with poverty a priority, as we have done in respect of terrorism.
Mr. John Hume (Foyle): Does the Minister agree that although it is essential and correct to give humanitarian aid to countries suffering from severe poverty, if we want to give them long-term and permanent assistance so that they can rely on themselves, the best way to assist them is to help them set up permanent education systems for the whole community? Does he agree that the point is strongly exemplified by Afghanistan, where 85 per cent. of women cannot read or write because they have not been allowed to go to school, and 65 per cent. of men cannot read or write because going to school is not permanent? Education will create societies where people can provide for themselves.
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Indeed, the objectives that have been set by the United Nations identify education as well as poverty relief as important millennium objectives. We have set targets; we are discussing finance on a global scale to enable us to achieve them.