The Queen’s Speech saw the annual pageantry descend on the Palace of Westminster, but the real interest is in the list of upcoming Government Bills Her Majesty announced.
For me, the one which will have the biggest impact on Northumberland is the Digital Economy Bill, which will introduce a ‘universal service obligation’ for broadband at a speed of 10Mbps.
With the fast-moving pace of digital development to business and medicine, I want to ensure as many homes as possible convert to superfast contracts.
The reason I have campaigned for a universal service obligation for broadband is that I believe it should be on the same footing as telephony. This means that fast broadband will be available on request, putting broadband connections on a par with the obligation to provide a telephone line.
That is the element which will prove important in areas such as ours.
I will be scrutinising this Bill very carefully to ensure that it will enable the vast majority of homes in Northumberland to access broadband of a decent speed.
The details of the USO will be consulted on over the summer, and I will publish them once I have them.
This consultation will be used to decide the financial commitment required to support rural communities in accessing the 10Mbps broadband service.
Many parts of North Northumberland are now able to access superfast broadband where BT has upgraded its cabinets, although I am acutely aware that the nature of the system is such that residents more than a mile from the cabinet will not see the maximum level of improvement.
However, it is very important that people check via the iNorthumberland website at www.inorthumberland.org.uk to see if it is, in theory, available via the exchange as present statistics indicate that only 30 to 35 per cent of those who are able to take up superfast broadband contracts have done so.
With the fast-moving pace of digital development to business and medicine, I want to ensure as many homes as possible convert to superfast contracts so BT’s commitment to reinvest Government subsidy into the fibre network can be achieved as soon as possible.
This week has seen more of Highways England’s roadshows on the proposals it has come up with for the routes for dualling the A1 and improvement works in the northern stretch.
There is a lot of planning work that must be completed before physical work begins, but I am pleased the team is consulting with the public at this early stage – it is keen to have as much local input as possible. Without local knowledge, particularly on safety concerns, it will be forced to rely on accident figures, which often don’t tell the full story on near misses and areas of concern.
I was briefed on the proposals last week and took the opportunity to raise my own concerns about the Adderstone Mains stretch, coming round to Mousen Bends.
The roadshows also displayed the three possible routes for the new dualled section, which the Highways team is seeking feedback on.
For those who were unable to attend the roadshows, the material is available on the Highways England website, and via my team based in Alnwick and Berwick.
Finally, I decided to put my name to an amendment to the Queen’s Speech expressing regret that it did not include a Bill to protect the NHS from TTIP – the controversial trade agreement between the USA and the EU ,which could mean that US companies could sue the UK Government should it want to take back into the public sector privately provided services in the NHS.
I support free trade, but TTIP introduces special courts, which are not necessary for trade, and will give US multi-nationals the right to sue our Government (but not vice versa).
The deal has been struck by the unelected EU Commissioners. As we are only one of 28 countries involved in this deal, the UK has little say over the details – that is how the EU operates.
The only way to prevent the UK and the NHS being bound by this new deal and its clauses is to vote to leave EU control and strike our own trade deal with the USA which protects our public services.