|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): The Minister spoke about the knowledge economy and the need to shape the courses to local businesses. However, is he aware that this will have a pretty hollow ring in west Norfolk, where the college of West Anglia has had its Learning and Skills Council capital programme cancelled, thus depriving it of the promised move to a new state of the art campus? Does he accept that businesses in west Norfolk and the knowledge economy in particular have been let down by his Department?
Mr. McFadden: I take exception to Opposition Members attacking our record on capital spending in further education. Let me give the hon. Gentleman the facts: 700 projects in 300 colleges worth £2.7 billion in expenditure. Contrast that with the amount in the last year that his party was in power: no projects, no colleges, not a single penny.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I see that my right hon. Friend wants to simplify the organisational clutter of public bodies delivering skills policy. Will he look at what has happened to Renishaw and Delphi in my constituency, where we put in place some very exciting skills training for those on short-time working? That has taken place, but it has not been at anything like the level that some of us would have liked. Will he look into that to see if this is a good learning point so that it can help future skills policy?
Mr. McFadden: I am happy to look at the constituency example that my hon. Friend cites. We made the Train to Gain budget more flexible during the recession by allowing it to be used for shorter courses and also for repeat qualifications, but we are making it very clear that in a world of constrained resources, looking to the future, we will want to focus that budget more readily on areas of future economic growth, and to use some of it to fund the level 3 technician apprenticeships that I have spoken about today.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): Given the reference in the statement to the skills accounts and the fact that students will be encouraged to shop around for colleges and courses, does my right hon. Friend agree that my constituents could be disadvantaged if we cannot find a way of retrieving the capital spend for the Stoke on Trent further education college? Will he work with me to try and find a solution so that we have proper facilities in-house locally?
Mr. McFadden: I know that my hon. Friend is a strong campaigner for her city and the college there. I remind her of the figure that I quoted a moment ago: we have spent some £2.7 billion on renewing the further education estate. I do not believe that her constituents will be disadvantaged by greater power and choice. It is good to give people greater power and choice-to let them drive the system, provided that the providers are properly accredited and that people have good, high-quality information. We are determined to ensure that those two conditions are met.
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): This statement heralds a welcome refocusing of activity. Does my right hon. Friend accept, however, that creating new places for science, technology and engineering is only half the equation-the other half is getting kids to want to fill those places? That will happen only when society holds these professions in greater esteem and we do more to inspire children in these subjects. How do the Government intend to fill that half of the equation?
Mr. McFadden: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I regularly visit engineering companies in my constituency, where people tell me that they have good, sometimes well-paid jobs, but they feel that young people have a distorted image of engineering, manufacturing and so on. In conjunction with the Engineering Employers Federation, we have set up an organisation, co-funded by the manufacturing industries, called Manufacturing Insight. Its task is to get out, get into schools and inspire young people with the powerful vision of a country that makes things and the careers that go with that. The policies that we have outlined today will help to equip people for those careers in the future.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): As a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, I am proud to hear what the Minister said about the support that he is giving to industry in ensuring that it has apprentices for the future. A lot of what he said is for the long term. Leyland Trucks-in Leyland, as one would expect from the name-will benefit through its hybrid truck from the grants and support that can be given to such companies. Will he look to ensure that that support will be there? We should also ensure that we keep people in the workplace, and have another look at a short-time working subsidy for the short term to back up what he said for the long term.
Mr. McFadden: I certainly agree with the first half of what my hon. Friend said. That is why the Government, working with colleagues in the Department for Transport and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, have a low-carbon industrial strategy, part of which is designed to ensure that Britain is a leading player in low-carbon transport, be it hybrid or electric vehicles. Countries have a simple choice: they either buy these technologies from elsewhere or make an effort to be manufacturers of those technologies. We very much want to take the latter route.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I welcome the focus on training for low-carbon economies and technologies, which is very much the future. My right hon. Friend talked about the regional development agencies having a strategic role in terms of training. Can he assure me that that would allow them to take a strategic approach in relation to funding from the European Union, Government grants and private sector grants in order to develop centres of low-carbon technology, as I believe that the Humber bank could become?
If we think back to the first industrial revolution, much of it was driven by energy resources-coal, steam, gas and oil. Those resources fuelled and funded the technologies of the 20th century. We stand on the brink of a second industrial revolution, which is the shift to low carbon. I absolutely agree with my right
hon. Friend about the importance of this. The role of RDAs is to work with local authorities, educational resources and employers in their area to fashion a regional strategy that meets the needs locally and regionally. That is a powerful vision, it is something that I believe they will be good at, and it is backed by the document that we have produced today.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a duty on mobile network operators to introduce automatic roaming capabilities between mobile telephone networks in the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes.
Just about every Member of the House has a mobile phone, some more than one. Imagine, Mr. Speaker, if yours stopped working, and if the lights and buttons still functioned but you could not access the internet, send an SMS or make a phone call. Now imagine that the person sitting next to you could use all the functions of their mobile phone to the fullest. How frustrating would it be to know that your phone had ceased to function while others were working perfectly? That is the problem facing many people in this country daily, particularly in my constituency.
Mobile phones are as common today as landline phones, and in some cases they may be the only form of communication that a person has. The good people at Ofcom have data that show that more than 80 per cent. of people in the United Kingdom use mobile phones in conjunction with their landline phone, and 12 per cent. only have a mobile phone. It is therefore expected that our mobile phones can send and receive signals with little or no interruption.
In London, quality mobile phone coverage is expected. To lose coverage for any length of time is deemed unacceptable. In fact, just a one-hour loss of 3G voice coverage on the O2 network in London last month warranted media attention. Now there are plans to extend mobile coverage to the underground, as it has been in cities such as Stockholm.
Surely, with the growth of mobile phone networks, we should also have an expectation of an expansion of the mobile network over the entire United Kingdom. The Bill would bring about a duty on mobile phone providers to allow roaming between networks within the UK, which is a variation of a system that is currently practised in the United States and does not need the building of any more costly physical infrastructure. It just needs better use of what is already there.
The Bill would benefit the entire UK mobile network. Although mobile coverage lost for an hour in London is a serious enough problem for the media, rural constituencies often rely totally on the strength of a mobile signal. People in my constituency of Na h-Eileanan an Iar are exposed to failures of the network more than most, because of the remoteness of the isles. Gale-force winds may damage a transmitter or mast, and when that goes down one mobile network signal may deactivate while another is still working. My constituents therefore ask why they cannot use the strongest working signal.
Recently in Carloway, on the Isle of Lewis in my constituency, there was a period of more than five weeks without mobile coverage. That means that people who depend predominantly on mobile networks, such as volunteer first responders, could not make calls or help to co-ordinate emergency services. Those people provide first aid when needed and direct ambulance
services to an incident site. In my constituency, it could take an hour or more to get an ambulance to a house, but a first responder could be there within minutes provided that they could receive emergency calls. The problem was exacerbated beyond the original delay when a dispute arose between Orange and the landowners of the mast. Most of the people affected in Carloway have landline coverage, but as well as the inconvenience of losing their mobile coverage, they still had to pay their monthly tariff for a service that they did not receive. Businesses that relied on mobile services were unable to operate at full efficiency.
That is not the only case of extreme coverage loss in my area. In the past two years, my constituents went without mobile coverage in September 2008 when Vodafone coverage was lost for two weeks; in June 2009 for two weeks; in July 2009 for one week; and, most recently, for more than five weeks when Orange coverage was lost between September and November. That is just on the island of Lewis, and other islanders and people in other areas of the constituency have similar stories to tell.
The problem could be alleviated in many instances if people could roam to a functioning network. That would also help the coverage and the amount of calls made, which would surely increase, and the companies' revenue would also increase if they co-operated and improved their geographical patchwork rather than having people inconvenienced and out of contact.
Indeed, perhaps mobile phones have been an unheralded facilitator of modern economic growth. An oft-quoted 2005 study from the London Business School found that when 10 or more out of 100 people in developing countries start using cell phones, gross domestic product rises by 0.59 per cent. per capita. Some studies have found even higher rises in GDP. Thus, as well as convenience, we should appreciate the economic benefits to areas that probably need them most, not only overseas but in this country.
Many people all over the UK will have experienced being cut off during calls as they enter blackspots. The Bill would reduce that phenomenon markedly by allowing people to piggyback on to another network. Of course, networks deserve praise because they have delivered great benefits and convenience to people's lives. They, too, in credit crunch times have cost restrictions. They are innovative in bringing 3G to people's homes through broadband connections of more than 1 megabit, although at a cost. Happily, T-Mobile tells me that it has great coverage up the entire A9-the spine of Scotland. Good stuff indeed.
Public policy through Ofcom wants five competing networks. There is some work on network consolidation, but clearly not enough, or I would not be standing here. I know people who have two mobile phones because their mobility is such that no one mobile network can serve their needs. Surely that contradicts the idea of mobile telephony. Contacting and texting those people is difficult because one has to send two messages and, invariably when one phones, they are in the area served by their second mobile phone. I think that that is known as sod's law.
I am not sure where that leaves aims for a Digital Britain. The Home Office paper, "Protecting the public in a changing communications environment", would
better serve the public by enabling roaming than by some of the other activities planned for e-mails and such like.
Now, a burden is placed on the consumer to find the ability to access more than one network. Consumers sometimes have to purchase more than one SIM card-or, indeed, more than one phone. Surely that is a highly inefficient way of delivering a service to the public. Why should consumers have to buy more than one SIM card or phone to get the maximum coverage for a mobile service that already exists?
It is not the first time that such a Bill has been introduced. Last year, the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) presented a similar measure. If the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells-a south-eastern English constituency with far better 2G and 3G coverage than mine-has similar concerns to those of my rural island constituency, it shows the vastness of the problem.
The measure is surely in the best interests of the consumer and the industry. Allowing consumers to roam automatically is tantamount to free advertising. If one discovers that one's contracted network is constantly down and one finds oneself on the strongest network, it would be prudent to move contracts. The best providers would thereby receive the most customers, and customers would have access to the best service. Surely that is an incentive to industry not to take its customers for granted. I wonder whether the status quo is too cosy for the mobile companies.
The market often needs a legislative push to work for rural customers and improve the service for urban customers. As has been said previously, we can get money free of charge from cash points operated by different banks because they benefit the customer and the industry. Surely we should expect the same from our mobile network. We hear much these days about fiscal stimulus, but it is phone stimulus that Parliament must give the country and the people.
That Mr. Angus MacNeil, Angus Robertson, Mr. Alistair Carmichael, Mark Durkan, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell, Pete Wishart, Mr. Mike Weir, Andrew George, Andrew Rosindell, Mr. Stephen Hepburn, David Davis, Greg Clark and Michael Fabricant present the Bill.
That the following provisions shall apply to the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 23 February 2009 (Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill (Programme)):
1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after their commencement at this day's sitting.
2. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.- ( Kevin Brennan.)
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|