I am still waiting, three years down the line, for BT to hand me a map showing exactly what it is doing. Let me explain to hon. Members that these are villages up in the Pennines. Then there are places, such as Glasson Dock, which lies on flat land on the coast just beyond Lancaster, that BT is not wiring up, even though there

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are more residents there than in Dolphinholme, where it is delivering fibre, fibre, fibre. I know that the Public Accounts Committee has looked at the situation, but I would ask it to look again at the BT situation.

Mr Vaizey: My hon. Friend’s wish has been granted, because at the end of last week the National Audit Office issued a report praising the effectiveness of the broadband roll-out scheme.

Eric Ollerenshaw: I beg to differ. Perhaps the Select Committee that looked at it here could recall BT. I have made inquiries about how to get the competition authorities to look at the situation. This is the behaviour of a monopoly: there is no transparency, we are not being told what is going on, and indeed we are being given disinformation.

Ian Lucas: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case. Is he, like me, upset by the complacency of those on the Government Front Bench about the monopoly that the coalition Government have constructed?

Eric Ollerenshaw: No, because I know that the Minister is not complacent, and I know that delivery across most of Lancashire is extremely effective, as the hon. Gentleman would have heard had he been here at the beginning. What hon. Members here are concerned about is the last 5%. I ask the Minister once again to look at BT’s performance in that remaining area.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. At least three Back-Bench Members still wish to speak, so I am reducing the time limit to five minutes from now.

6.13 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) on securing it once again. The real challenge, as we have heard in contributions from across the House, is the remaining 5% and the pitch of frustration our constituents feel when we do not see sufficiently rapid movement, when there seems to be a lack of reliable information and when they cannot get the answers they so desperately need. A significant portion of the e-mails I receive relate to the remaining 5% in south Wiltshire.

Connectivity is an essential part of our daily lives—it is the fourth utility—but it has not existed reliably in some parts of my constituency. Just a few months ago, residents in Bishopstone and Coombe Bissett were cut off completely from the outside world when there was a fault on their main telephone lines. Neither village has mobile phone coverage, so the loss of the connection left elderly residents unable to reach their panic buttons, employees unable to pay their tax bills, and at least one local business on the verge of collapse. This happened four and a half miles from the city of Salisbury. That is why we need to look carefully at all the options that exist at this point in the delivery of the roll-out to maximise broadband, and 4G, coverage.

Rural communities are resilient and innovative, as several colleagues from across the House have said, but we must do more to help them benefit from creative solutions. Two villages in my constituency, Broad Chalke and Winterslow—I thank the Minister for visiting

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Winterslow a couple of years ago—have benefited from Vodafone’s Rural Open Sure Signal programme, which provides 3G coverage to sparsely populated areas that otherwise would have none. That has had a transformative effect. The simplest tasks, such as schools phoning parents when their children are ill, or lost delivery drivers getting in touch, were impossible without this technology. It is imperative that we continue to look creatively at other solutions that might exist and that we do not offer inferior solutions on the grounds of cost alone, and cost as it is today.

One of my constituents who is a dedicated campaigner for better connectivity in rural areas has lived with satellite broadband for nine years. That system relies on individual packets of data being sent about 44,000 km from a satellite. He tells me that while the system functions well when downloading large files, the delay in these packets of data makes everyday browsing or video streaming very difficult. I therefore urge the Minister to ensure that alternative solutions are also on the table. I am aware that the Government have put £10 million into the pilot schemes in rural areas using different technologies, and that they will be evaluating the success of those different pilot schemes. I echo the comments of hon. Members who said that more needs to be allocated to that initiative, because that is where the last 2% or 3% are going to find their solutions. There are improvements in technology all the time, and the Government need to be right on top of the best solutions as they come into existence.

By sheer coincidence, my constituent had a new 4G mast erected close enough that he could benefit from it. I want to highlight to mobile phone companies, and to the Minister, the immense opportunity that exists in this regard. There are areas of the country that will not be able to benefit from fibre broadband cost-effectively but where 4G could provide an answer. That can be nothing short of transformative for these communities, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) said, for urban areas as well.

I hope the Minister has listened carefully to the intense and sincere speeches that have been made, because there are serious issues for constituents across the country who are so frustrated when they cannot get this matter resolved. We need to make sure that we use the new technologies and that they are delivered as quickly as possible. We should welcome the fact that only 3% of premises in the UK are now suffering speeds below 2 Mb, down from 11% in 2010, but let us not be complacent. Let us do as much as we possibly can to speed up the roll-out for the last 5%, or even the last 2%, who we all intensely fear will never get a solution.

6.19 pm

Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): Some right hon. and right hon. Members will be surprisingly familiar with my constituency, including the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), although I will not dwell on the result of his leadership of the Labour campaign in the by-election. As they will know, the constituency is predominantly rural, with more than 150 villages, from the suburbs of Nottingham going up through north Nottinghamshire. Our second-largest employer is Vodafone, which employs more than 500 people in the town of Newark. My

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predecessor and I have had an extremely good and productive relationship with the company. There has been good news, which I will come to, but there are a number of concerns.

Mr Vaizey: Start with the good news.

Robert Jenrick: I will deal with that last.

During his Westminster Hall debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) set out eloquently the moral and economic case for broadband in rural areas. It is not just about isolation, but about enabling people to lead full lives in an interconnected world and to consume the news, learn, be economically active and connect with relatives who live around the country and the world. I am part of perhaps the last generation of MPs to have known the world before broadband, and the opportunities it presents are immeasurably greater than those I knew as a child.

The greatest barrier to aspiration and meritocracy is lack of information. Individuals frequently set their horizons according to the world they know and have it broadened by more information and knowledge about which university to go to and which employer to seek out. It is no exaggeration to say that broadband access is about giving young people and people of all ages the benefits of the rich possibilities of our interconnected world. Not having those opportunities has a major effect. It is also evident that such access is about economic growth. The 150 villages in my constituency are brimming with small businesses, entrepreneurs and communities that want to get on and succeed, but they are being held back, with one hand tied behind their back, because of a lack of broadband access.

This is also about closing both the rural-urban gap and the north-south divide. Some 350 people commute from Newark to London. That is a difficult journey to make every day, but it can be made regularly if people can work from home with good quality broadband.

Nottinghamshire county council has made good progress in recent years. I pay tribute to Nicola McCoy-Brown, my contact at the council, and the £20 million better broadband for Nottinghamshire programme. A number of villages, including Collingham, have seen huge improvements in recent years, but a huge amount of work remains to be done. More than 40 villages in my constituency have little broadband, certainly not enough to run a business or to work or do proper education from home.

I want to raise a few concerns. The first is whether all the public money is being well spent. Those Members familiar with my constituency will know that a vast swathe of it is, in effect, made up—my constituents will not thank me for saying this—of commuter villages that are almost the suburbs of Nottingham. I am surprised that those villages are deemed not economically viable for BT to be able to supply them. I suspect that East Bridgford, Bingham and villages surrounding Southwell are economically viable and that BT is not using public money appropriately.

Secondly, the figures of 5% and 10% are frequently misused, because they are denoted by county and local authority. The result for local authorities that are predominantly urban, such as Nottinghamshire, is clearly very different from the result for those that are predominantly rural. My constituency is the 10% that is

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rural in Nottinghamshire, so the definition of what is rural and remote in Nottinghamshire is different from that in Herefordshire, Wales and Cumbria. In fact, a vast swathe of that 10% is not particularly rural or remote at all. I think the definition is misused.

I entirely endorse earlier comments about linking mobile and data. Smartphones are ubiquitous in my constituency, but no one can use them, even in Newark town. They are sold in all the shops by all the dealerships, but no one can use them.

Time is against me, so I will finish by addressing Openreach. The company claims not to be a monopoly, but it displays all the characteristics of one. I know this issue is market sensitive, but I urge the Minister to look into it. For good business reasons, the organisation needs to be separated from BT and broken up. In the short term, I urge the Minister to do something about the appalling customer service at Openreach and to encourage it to treat its customers with the respect and dignity they deserve.

6.24 pm

Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con): I have followed the debate carefully and was not sure whether I would have time to speak, so I am delighted to be the last speaker from the Conservative ranks. My speech will, of course, commend the Government for the extraordinary work they have done on broadband, while suggesting one or two changes that will make all the difference.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) and the Backbench Business Committee on initiating this debate. The response from the House has made it clear that he touched on a number of issues that are common to those of us who represent rural constituencies, wherever we sit in the House, and it has been essential to get the matter before the Minister and the House.

My constituency exhibits a number of characteristics that we have heard about, such as properties with fewer than 2 megabits in local authorities that I represent—that affects 8.6% of properties in Central Bedfordshire and 12% in Bedford borough. Again, the same properties tend to miss out, and the hard to reach are genuinely hard to reach.

I have an inventive and thoughtful community that has tried all sorts of different things. It is effective at putting a case together and has detailed plans. I have attended two public meetings in the village of Colmworth and heard a very detailed description of its business premises, residential areas, and the needs of such a rural area. North East Bedfordshire has a diverse community that depends on a relationship between the rural and the urban, as well as on connectivity. The opportunity to work there is becoming even more essential.

Let me say two slightly controversial things. First, I praise BT’s regional partnership director, Annette Thorpe, who has worked incredibly hard with people in my region. I have met her more than a handful of times in different villages in my constituency. She has tried to meet some of the problems, but the difficulty has been that BT is overstretched. It has had too much work and has not been able to deliver, and it has been a problem to satisfy expectations. Annette Thorpe has worked extremely hard to do all she can.

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Secondly, my hon. Friend the Minister has been a victim of his own success. The Government inherited a poorly developed programme from the previous Government—whatever the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) says—and they have made remarkable steps forward. However, there is so much work to do and a limited number of people to do it, and it has not been possible to deliver everything we wanted. Communication has been crucial. In Bedford, BT has been struggling to deal with the volume of open market review requests and invitations to tender. That has resulted in it trying to make sense of its own data, which has held it back from the next steps it needs to take. The sheer volume of work being done has caused it to become a victim of its own success.

As well as the familiar issues that colleagues have mentioned, there are some new ones. BT has realised that even when it gets to the end of its programme, it might not be able to deliver. There are some properties it just cannot reach, so what is to happen to them? If it does succeed in delivering 2 megabits, that will not be enough for existing technology, and the issue must be thought through.

A further problem that we have not spent much time on concerns new developments in rural and market town constituencies. King’s Reach in Biggleswade is a new development on the edge of my largest town with 20,000-plus people, and they find it hard to get broadband and superfast broadband. I pay tribute to that community, which worked incredibly hard, and particularly to Councillor Bernard Rix, who led the work with BT, and my assistant, Mandy Setterfield. We have worked with Annette Thorpe—sometimes behind the scenes—to push things along, but there have been problems with siting cabinets and getting new properties linked up. When talking about linking up the old, we must not forget that we must also deal with linking up the new.

Finally, I would like to take up the kind offer of my right hon. Friend to meet representatives from my constituency.

Mr Vaizey: I must accept that kind invitation, especially since my right hon. Friend has just promoted me to the Privy Council,

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I am sorry that we have lost a minute because we may lose another speaker. I am sure that could have waited.

Alistair Burt: If the Minister would kindly meet a group that represents not only the older rural areas that are trying to be connected, but representatives from the newer areas, I am sure he will understand our problems, including those in Dunton, which thought it was on the list and has now been bumped off. I am very grateful for the time of the House and to my hon. Friend the Minister, who should be my right hon. Friend very soon.

6.29 pm

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): As a brief coda to this excellent debate, I do not believe the Minister doubts my commitment to broadband in rural areas. We have spoken many times about it. I am grateful for his commitment to the roll-out of the programme across the country and what the Department

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for Culture, Media and Sport has done. I used to have meetings with him as a DEFRA Minister. The two Departments energised each other in those meetings.

I am grateful to Somerset county council, of which I am sometimes critical on other matters. It has pushed strongly, but the fact remains that, despite its best efforts, very substantial parts of my constituency will still not get high-speed broadband in the initial roll-out. Often, they are the same parts that do not get mobile phone coverage.

The Minister made a brilliantly witty speech at the opening of the Haynes International Motor museum in my constituency, but if he had any doubts, he heard directly from my constituents how important broadband is to us. It is important for them in their domestic circumstances and important for their businesses.

We must now concentrate everything we have in Government and local government on ensuring that the bits that will not be reached catch up with the rest. That will not mean extending the BT contract, even if we know where the boundaries of the contract lie. It will not mean getting more large companies engaged in programmes across the country. It will mean stimulating many small businesses to provide wi-fi connections to small groups of villages, to provide the plugs to fill those gaps. We need to find the mechanism that makes that work effectively. If the Minister can do that in his remaining months in his current position, I will be eternally grateful to him. I may even take him up on the offer of meeting him with a few of my constituents to make the point yet again.

6.31 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I agree with the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart). At times, I have felt as if I have walked into a meeting of the 1922 committee this afternoon—it has been a congregation of the excluded, the dispossessed and the disconnected. I should tell all hon. Members who have complained about the last 3% or 5% that I feel their pain. I recommend that they vote Labour at the general election because that is the only way they will get this sorted out.

For once, it is not just about the many, but about the few. As many hon. Members have said, mobile telephony and broadband—superfast broadband—are not luxuries any more. They are a fundamental and essential utility. People have a right to expect both in residential properties, and businesses have a right to expect them. As the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) said, many business parks are still not connected. Incidentally, ensuring that that is rolled out is the strongest argument for state intervention. That is one of the things we need to look at.

If hon. Members watched “Last Tango in Halifax” on Sunday evening, they will know how important mobile telephony is. A wedding might all too easily be cancelled because somebody did not manage to send a text message or get mobile coverage to be able to say, “I’m on my way.”

For that matter, in many places in the country, if people want to watch “Last Tango in Halifax” half an hour or an hour later on iPlayer, they would have to

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have 2 megabits per second at least, and yet, as many hon. Members from parties on both sides of the Chamber have said, too many people cannot even get that 2 megabits per second. If somebody is upstairs watching YouTube on a tablet, somebody is downloading something on their smartphone and somebody else is watching iPlayer through their smart TV, even 5 megabits per second might not be enough because of contention ratios. Even when the technology has been rolled past their door, many people are not connected, either because they do not know the benefits or simply because there is not enough competition in the market to make it cheap enough for them to afford.

I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) on introducing the debate. I know the problems in his constituency, because when I stayed there for the Hay festival last year, I had absolutely no means of finding the place where I was going because Google maps gave up on me, because there was no connectivity. I think Edmund Burke would have been proud of him. I am not sure Burke had a lot to say about mobile telephony, but he was quite keen on connections. After all, he said:

“The only liberty…is a liberty connected with order.”

I want to talk about the Government’s record. Hon. Members have snuck around the corner here a little bit. In essence, they know that most of what they have argued this afternoon is a criticism of the Government’s record. They have not put it in such terms, because they know there is a general election coming.

Mr Reid rose—

Chris Bryant: I will not give way if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, because we want to get on to—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): The hon. Gentleman has only just walked in.

Chris Bryant: To be fair, the hon. Gentleman did speak earlier.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Just for clarification, normally you do not walk in and intervene, no matter if you have spoken earlier. The convention is you at least hear a little bit of the new debate.

Chris Bryant: On the Government’s record, I think what everybody has said today is that we have to take the whole country with us. That means 100%, not 93% or 95%. I merely point out to hon. Members that the original target was 2 megabits a second by 2012. That was abandoned by this Government, who moved the target to 2015. Now, the target has been moved to 2016. I suggest that that means we want lots of people to be able to run before some people are even able to walk in the digital economy, and I think that that is a mistake.

The superfast target of 24 megabits a second has also been changed. It was 90% by 2015. Then, when the Government worked out that that simply was not going to happen, for all the reasons hon. Members have set out today, they moved it to 95% by 2016.

Mr Vaizey rose—

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Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman will be speaking in a few moments and we wait with bated breath. If he can bate his breath, I will bate mine.

When BT appeared before the Select Committee it said that we probably would not get to the 90% target until 2018, so there are problems. The Committee was absolutely right when it reported today that

“Repeated changes in target dates for rollout of superfast broadband inevitably reduce confidence that coverage will be achieved on time. They also leave those in the hardest-to-reach areas uncertain as to when their businesses will be able fully to engage with digital practices.”

The Committee, which is made up of all political parties in this House, is absolutely right.

There are key decisions that I think the Government have taken ill-advisedly. The most important in terms of mobile telephony roll-out—the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) effectively referred to this—is in relation to the electronic communications code. There are landowners in the country who have made it phenomenally difficult to put up a new mast or increase the size of a mast. The provisions in the electronic communications code need to be more like those that exist for electricity and water—the common utilities that we absolutely need—than as a luxury, which was how mobile phone telephony was originally looked on. The Government got the Law Commission to report two years ago on the electronic communications code. Only at the very last minute did they table very poorly drafted amendments to the Infrastructure Bill. They could have been on the Order Paper to be properly considered in the normal way a year ago. If hon. Members really want to tackle the problems of mobile telephony coverage across the country, they have to deal with the electronic communications code. The Government have misplayed this matter completely.

Incidentally, the hon. Member for Newbury said that we had to listen to the silent majority. I am not quite sure how one listens to silence. Maybe the point is that the silent majority are not connected and so do not have an opportunity to tell us what they think.

Another failed programme from the Government was the £150 million mobile infrastructure project. One hon. Member gently suggested that it is a bit of a failing if only two masts, serving another 400 homes, have been put up in all that time. That is not a slight failure—it is a massive failure. The Government should be coming to the Dispatch Box to hang their heads in shame.

Another £150 million has been allocated to the super-connected cities programme, but why just cities? Why did they decide to give out vouchers only for superfast cities? Why not the whole country? I represent an area—

Julian Smith rose—

Chris Bryant: No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. We are going to hear from the Minister—

Mr Vaizey: Give way!

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Look, this debate is not going to degenerate now. If the Minister can control himself, he will be on shortly, and if Back Benchers want to intervene, will they please do it in the correct manner?

Julian Smith rose—

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Chris Bryant: No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He might recall refusing to give way to me earlier. Had he been a little nicer then, I might have returned the favour.

The Government allocated £150 million to the super-connected cities programme, but what did they do? They hid their light under a bushel—they did not tell anybody about the programme—and guess what? Nobody applied for the vouchers. The hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) complained that we objected to the advertising programme. That is completely wrong. He should read his briefing note from the Whips a little more carefully. We complained there was no advertising, which is why there was no take-up and why, of the £150 million, so far only £20 million has been spent. That is another failure from the Government.

On the tender process, I accept the point about having local communities drive the agenda rather than a national statist agenda, but I gently suggest that if we set up 44 separate areas, it will be almost inevitable that the only people able to compete with a company such as BT will be those with very deep pockets who could be almost certain of getting several contiguous tenders, and that was never going to happen. In effect, it resulted in a licence to create a monopoly, and where we have a monopoly, we need tough, serious rules to ensure greater competition.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), who lost his voice and was helped out by the Minister, made a sensible point about the lack of competition across the whole area, particularly in the provision between the cabinet and the home. That was exactly the problem with the incident he related about the company called B4RN. The other problem is that we are falling far short on take-up compared with roll-out. A far better economic model would be to drive roll-out by encouraging take-up, because people would understand what we need all these megabits for. People hear us talk about 24 megabits, 30 megabits, 50 megabits, 100 megabits, 1 gigabit, but actually nobody knows what we are talking about.

Richard Benyon indicated dissent.

Chris Bryant: The vast majority of people have no understanding of what we are talking about, which is why we have very low rates of take-up.

The Government have taken some very wrong steps. For one, they ruled out wireless at the beginning. It is a delight that there is now a £10 million pilot looking at wireless solutions, but it should have been in existence in 2011-12. It is too late now. It is wrong only to look at fibre to the cabinet, and not fibre to some properties, because the simple truth is that people whose houses are a long way from the cabinet will never be part of superfast broadband under the programme as thus exemplified.

As I have said, there is next to no competition. If the Government are to spend the best part of £500 million of taxpayers’ money—most of it coming off the licence fee—they need to make a strong argument that it is meeting market failure, and I think that when they advanced phase 2, in particular, of superfast broadband without a proper business plan, they failed to prove it was meeting market failure. There is no evidence that this is meeting market failure, rather than simply helping BT make investments it would have made anyway.

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We should be one nation, not digitally divided or disconnected. We should embrace the words of E. M. Forster in “Howards End”: “Only connect”.

6.44 pm

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): Let me begin by saying how grateful I am that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) mentioned E. M. Forster, because my late father campaigned for a blue plaque for E. M. Forster, which can now be seen on the flats in Arlington Park mansions in Chiswick. That is an aside, but I always like to mention my old dad, my late father, who was in the other place. I usually get to mention him during steel debates, but I digress.

We have had an excellent debate with some 18 contributions, most from the Conservative Benches because only one Labour Back Bencher showed up to make a speech. That gives the lie to the Opposition spokesman’s protestations that Labour is interested in rural communities and interested in getting broadband to them.

We heard excellent speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), who called this important debate, and the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock). We heard my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) talking about his area’s local enterprise partnership. We heard from the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) and from my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), who made some important suggestions. We heard the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), who contributed to the EFRA Committee report, which to a certain extent sits behind today’s debate.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), who has pioneered broadband in North Yorkshire, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) who spoke about Vodafone. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) came up with a new acronym—MBORC, which I shall investigate—while my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) quite rightly started by praising the Government.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) and from my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), whose contribution I always intensely enjoy. We then heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Salisbury (John Glen) and for Newark (Robert Jenrick)—it is the first time I have heard the latter speak, and what an excellent contribution it was.

We then heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and, of course, from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) who I always remember saying—although not in this debate—that the only way he can get a signal is by standing on his kitchen cabinet.

In the time available I cannot answer all the questions put to me, but I hope that in the course of my response

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some of the issues will be covered. If they are not, I will write to each and every hon. Member who has made a contribution to this debate.

Let me begin with the contribution of the hon. Member for Rhondda. We heard 10 or 15 minutes from him, but just as we searched the Benches behind him for any speakers, we searched for a policy in his speech—but policy could we find there none. Is it Labour’s intention, for example, to designate internet provision as a utility? Is it Labour’s intention to bring broadband to business parks? Is it Labour’s intention simply to provide broadband only where people say they want it, so that for the first two or three years of a Labour Government we would see a marketing campaign before any broadband was rolled out?

What are the Opposition’s positions on our policies? The hon. Gentleman lambasted us for not proceeding with the changes to the electronic communications code in the Infrastructure Bill, yet while it was still in the Bill, he was writing to the Secretary of State saying that Labour could not support it. The Opposition Front-Bench team has complained about the superfast broadband advertising campaign, yet now the hon. Gentleman claims that he wished we had advertised more.

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman got his facts wrong when he said that we had moved the target. We had a target to get superfast broadband to 90% of the country by the end of 2015, and we have every chance of meeting that target. [Interruption.] I repeat that we have every chance of meeting that target. Then we set a new target of 95%—namely, getting to a further 5% of the country by 2016-17. That is not moving the target. The hon. Gentleman also said that we had ruled out wireless technology at the beginning; our approach has always been to be technology-neutral.

This broadband roll-out campaign is an unequivocal success. We shall very shortly announce that we have passed the 2 millionth premise as a result of the roll-out campaign. That means 2 million households—millions of people—now getting superfast broadband where the market would not deliver. Labour’s alternative policy was to give those people 2 megabits and then forget about it. Incidentally, Labour had no way of paying for it, as it had no policy to show how it would pay for this provision of 2 megabits. In fact, 97% of the country already benefits from coverage of 2 megabits, but we know—and all my hon. Friends know from their constituents—that that is no longer deemed to be enough. Most people now expect 7 or 8 megabits.

Some of my hon. Friends talked about future-proofing. In 2010, we thought that aiming for 24-megabit superfast broadband would be the right policy, but technology changes all the time. Members will have noted BT’s announcement last Friday that it expects to be able to achieve speeds of up to 500 megabits over a copper line, thanks to new technology that it is trying out.

In the past, we have been criticised by the National Audit Office for some aspects of our campaign. I have been robust in defending our programme against the NAO’s critique, and I am pleased to say that last week it praised the roll-out of superfast broadband. It made it clear that we were close to meeting our targets, and were providing value for money. For that I thank the men and women who work for BT, including the engineers who work tirelessly to produce superfast broadband. Over the Christmas period, I visited some of them in

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Steventon, which is in my constituency. More often than not, they exceed their targets and their reach. I also thank Chris Townsend and all my officials who run Broadband Delivery UK, as well as Bill Murphy, who had overall responsibility for the BT programme.

I think that this is a programme of which we can be very proud. It is being delivered by a great British company, BT, and I was not going to come to the House and run that company down. Let us look at the facts. Superfast broadband is now available to nearly 80% of premises, whereas fewer than 50% had it when we came to office. The United Kingdom has a higher superfast coverage than any of the other EU5 countries. Our average broadband speed has quadrupled over the last four years. We have the highest take-up of superfast broadband in the EU5 and the lowest priced broadband in the EU5 and the United States, and we have the largest number of broadband users in the EU5.

I understand the frustrations expressed by my hon. Friends, because those statistics point to the fact that we live in a digitally savvy nation, and British consumers want to use the internet. For example, they spend the highest amount per capita on e-commerce shopping. They are rightly demanding the provision of higher speeds and better service as soon as possible, but we are moving as fast as we can, and, as I have said, we are exceeding our targets and are well on track. As for value for money, the independent assessment review conducted for BDUK showed that, in the case of a range of cabinets, BT’s costs were 90% lower than those of a normally efficient operator, while the NAO reported that the average costs of a broad range of projects were currently proving to be about 25% lower than the estimated costs of bids for those projects.

So what are the issues? I have dealt with the issue of whether we have moved the target, so let me now deal with the issue of competition. Time and again, people ask me why there is not more competition, but what sort of competition do they want? If we had organised a national bid—if we had asked a company to tender to provide broadband on a national basis rather than for 44 areas—what would have happened if BT had won? We would have had a national provider. Do people think that we should have done it according to regions? Who is to say that BT would not have won those contracts? The 44 areas were small, and were open to smaller providers should they have wished to bid. The fact is that BT won the contracts because it provided value for money. That has shown us how tough it is to build the necessary infrastructure, for this is an engineering project that requires infrastructure build-up.

I will give the Labour party some credit: it did provide an element of competition. It had a digital region in south Yorkshire which went to a provider other than BT, and that went bust. We have had to pick up the pieces, and have had to write off £50 million worth of taxpayers’ money. That is the kind of competition that Labour provided. Nearly 95% of Cornwall, where BT won the contract under the last Government, now has superfast broadband speeds. It is one of the best-connected regions in Europe, and Cornish companies are saying that they have better broadband than when they go to Silicon Valley.

The other issue is customer service. That involves maps, which pose another dilemma. On the one hand my hon. Friends say, “We want maps to show exactly

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where people are going,” but then the maps are published and BT or the local authority get on the ground and they say, “Actually, this is not as viable as we thought and we’re going to move somewhere else.” That leads to disappointment. There is a balance to be struck, but as far as I am aware now almost all regions are providing maps of up to seven-digit postcodes.

Contrary to impressions, I am not the spokesman for Openreach and I share, as a constituency MP, the frustrations that arise with customer service. I cannot inform the House what proportion of bad customer service and good customer service there is, but we all know that constituents who get good service from Openreach are not going to e-mail us while those who get terrible service will, quite rightly, e-mail us and expect us to sort that out. I hold my hand up and say that I have had my fair share of people complaining about Openreach customer service.

I also share the frustration about new housing developments, and as a result we have got the telecoms providers around the table with the major housing developers and we have put in place a system whereby new housing developments are flagged up to telecoms providers.

Finally, the biggest point Members mentioned is of course the last 5%. Again, I absolutely understand the frustration of my hon. Friends, and all I would say is, “Meet me halfway.” We have never as a Government pretended we were doing anything other than what we were doing. We said, “We have the money to get to 90% and we hope to do that by the end of 2015.” The Chancellor saw how well the programme was going so he gave us more money. We then had the money to go to 95% and we will get there by the end of 2017. Then, to give great credit to the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), we said, “We want to get to the last 5%, but the back-of-the-envelope cost is huge—literally in the billions of pounds—so let’s do some research before we go back to the Treasury to say what it is likely to cost.” That is why we set up the £10 million pilot projects: we wanted to get on the ground and see what new technologies could deliver superfast broadband speeds to that last 5%. We do not want to leave the last 5% behind; by definition they are the most difficult and most expensive to reach, but we will get there.

Mobile is another huge issue. We have the fastest roll-out of 4G coverage in the world and the fastest take-up, and I hope my hon. Friends will recognise the superb legally binding agreement to extend that, which the Secretary of State negotiated with the mobile operators. By the end of 2015 we will have reached 98% of premises with 4G from the main operators, but this groundbreaking deal will see the geographic coverage over the two years after that—2016 and 2017—spread to 90% of the country, and it is not going to cost the taxpayer a penny. We have already pioneered it with the mobile infrastructure projects because we have prepared—[Interruption.]The hon. Member for Rhondda is misunderstanding annual licence fees. We have pioneered that with our mobile infrastructure projects because, again, we recognised that rural communities want mobile coverage, and we now have 100 sites ready to go.

It has been difficult, however, and my hon. Friends mentioned the difficulties we face with landlords, who see this as an excuse. In fact I was being told only today

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about a mast in the highlands that is damaged but which the company cannot get repaired because the landlords used its damage as an excuse to try to negotiate a higher rent. These are the kinds of issues mobile providers face up and down the country.

Finally, I commend the digital infrastructure document that we published today. We have been working in the last year to look at all the infrastructure networks the Government have a stake in, including the Network Rail signalling network, the emergency services network and JANET—the joint academic network for universities. We want to bring them together, to get that synergy that we have long called for.

I rest my case there, Mr Deputy Speaker.

6.58 pm

Jesse Norman: I am grateful to my hon. Friend—I was in danger of being filibustered by my ministerial colleague. It is very good to know he shares our concerns about BT Openreach. That only raises the question of to whom he writes to express that anger.

We have had an excellent debate featuring many very powerful contributions, and it absolutely validates the decision of the Backbench Business Committee to give us this time. Many issues have been raised—economic, social and cultural, and affecting businesses, emergency services, utilities, health care, farmers, families young and old, and those learning, playing and working, all of whom depend on good mobile and broadband connectivity, and doubly so in rural areas.

We have heard about many serious concerns: not spots; the mobile infrastructure project; and Openreach. The point has been made again and again that broadband is not a luxury. I welcome the Government’s commitment; let them see it being pursued in future months and years.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered rural phone and broadband connectivity.


Bank branches in Sedbergh

6.59 pm

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): I present a petition of more than 1,000 residents of Sedbergh in my constituency, which was collected by local volunteers led by Councillor Evelyn Westwood, against the plans of both NatWest and Barclays to close their branches in the town.

The Petitioners declare that,

the closure of both the Barclays and NatWest branches in Sedbergh would leave the town without any bank branch, causing an inconvenience for small businesses, vulnerable residents and the community of Sedbergh as a whole. The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to encourage the Chief Executives of both Barclays and NatWest to retain their branches in Sedbergh.

And your Petitioners remain, etc.


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CCTV in Slaughterhouses

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Dr Thérèse Coffey.)

7 pm

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity this evening to raise the issue of the need for CCTV to be installed and monitored in slaughterhouses, in an effort to better aid animal welfare.

I personally have been vegetarian for more than a quarter of a century, because I am concerned about animal welfare issues in the production of meat, and also for food and environmental sustainability reasons, but I recognise that the majority of people eat meat. However, I would contend that the majority of those people who eat meat want to know that their food is sourced to the highest standards when it comes to animal welfare.

Trainee slaughterers are tested to ensure that they know the laws relating to animal welfare before they are licensed, and yet when secret cameras have been installed in slaughterhouses, many of them have been caught flouting welfare laws, often in shocking and sickening ways. All too often, this cruelty is casually meted out to every animal that passes through their hands.

The Animal Aid charity has carried out covert investigations going back as far as 2009. Since then, the group has secreted cameras inside 10 randomly selected UK slaughterhouses and found serious animal welfare breaches in nine of them. The latest evidence from a non-stun Yorkshire slaughterhouse was released to the media just this morning. It showed that the layout of the slaughterhouse was deficient and, in the words of the group,

“was guaranteed to cause unnecessary suffering to animals”.

One wonders how that slaughterhouse was ever approved in the first place. The video from inside the abattoir shows casual, routine violence, with sheep being picked up by the ears, legs and fleeces and thrown on to the conveyor, or hurled head first into solid structures. It shows that the “surgically sharp knife” was often so blunt that the slaughterer had to hack over and over again at the throats of still-conscious animals. It also shows workers tormenting animals: waving knives in their faces; shouting at them; and in one case painting spectacles on the face of a sheep, so that they could laugh at the animal as she bled to death.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I think every one of us was shocked when we saw the CCTV video and the pictures in the papers. I understand that in every abattoir there is an official veterinary officer who is available to monitor what happens inside the abattoir. They have to be of a certain qualified standard, but I understand that some of them are not. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that perhaps the way forward with this issue is to ensure that those official veterinary officers have the qualifications to observe and monitor the abattoirs, to ensure that these practices do not happen.

Henry Smith: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The fact is that the vets who are on site in slaughterhouses are not everywhere at once, and too many incidents have been missed, as I will discuss.

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Proper training is essential, but having an all-seeing eye and independent monitoring would ensure the maximum quality of animal welfare conditions in our slaughterhouses.

The recording to which I was referring shows appalling violence. The Food Standards Agency has so far suspended the licences of three workers, and I understand it is also building cases for prosecutions. Terrible as those actions are, that slaughterhouse is not, unfortunately, an anomaly.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): I speak in a dual capacity, as a farmer’s daughter and as the Member for North Down. I strongly support the hon. Gentleman’s call to make CCTV cameras compulsory in all slaughterhouses, and I hope that that would be extended to Northern Ireland. Can he enlighten the House as to the estimated cost of the installation of such cameras?

Henry Smith: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. My brother is a farmer, and many farmers I have spoken to are deeply concerned that the welfare that they care about when the animals are on their farm is discarded in the final moments in the slaughterhousesI received an e-mail about that just earlier today. I will come on to address the cost to slaughterhouses, but it would range from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand pounds. Given the scale of the industry, only a small amount would be needed to install CCTV across all slaughterhouses in the UK. I deliberately say the UK, because it is important that Northern Ireland, as well as Great Britain, is included.

Earlier recordings revealed animals being kicked, slapped, stamped on, picked up by fleeces and ears, and thrown into stunning pens. They recorded animals being improperly stunned and coming round again, or suffering painful electrocution instead of being stunned. Cameras have also captured animals being deliberately and illegally beaten and punched, and burned with cigarettes. Workers have been caught hitting pigs in the head with shackle hooks, and using the stunning tongs deliberately to cause pain by sending electric shocks through animals’ ears, noses, tails, legs and abdomens, and even, in one case, through an open mouth.

The key point I wish to convey tonight is that not one of the illegal acts filmed was detected by the Government-appointed on-site vets or the slaughterhouse operators, who have ultimate responsibility for animal welfare. The current regulatory system fails animals badly, and I believe it is time to rectify that. Workers do know the law and they know how to abide by it, yet investigations show that it is routinely flouted when they think no one is watching—in which case, someone needs to be watching. Independently monitored CCTV could help reduce the number of vicious attacks in the first instance by deterring them. Who would stub a cigarette out on the face of an animal if they knew the illegal act was being recorded?

Cameras could help prevent routine suffering by detecting institutionalised poor practice, such as the illegal stunning and slaughter methods used in at least four of the slaughterhouses videoed by Animal Aid. Any vet who saw these methods would have been able to step in and advise retraining for the staff involved. And, of course, those who do cause deliberate unnecessary suffering to animals are much more likely to be caught. The recordings, when properly monitored, provide evidence that will

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allow food business operators and the Food Standards Agency to take decisive action. Since Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals welfare standards introduced the requirement for installation of CCTV in abattoirs from 2011, all Freedom Food scheme-approved slaughterhouses have had to install effective CCTV systems and store recordings, and make them available to Freedom Food and RSPCA field staff.

Jim Shannon: The hon. Gentleman is being gracious in allowing my interventions. Perhaps he is coming on to this, but will someone be paid to monitor and observe the CCTV? Will there not be a cost factor in that, too?

Henry Smith: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The importance of CCTV is that what is recorded is stored for a period of time and then made available to independent inspectors. I know of a number of groups that would be willing to provide that service at no cost to the taxpayer because of their concern for animal welfare.

Let me return now to the RSPCA and the Freedom Food scheme. The two organisations have direct practical experience of seeing and assessing the issues associated with the operation of CCTV systems in a range of slaughterhouses. Based on first-hand experience, the use of CCTV in abattoirs is likely to bring many benefits to animals, inspectors and food business operators. Many of those benefits have already been realised in abattoirs that have installed such monitoring.

The presence of an effective CCTV system in abattoirs is also likely to improve confidence among consumers, enforcers, the food industry and the farming industry that poor practice is being avoided—or at least is more likely to be identified and properly dealt with.

One RSPCA farm livestock officer who monitors Freedom Food approved abattoirs, and who has many years of experience of viewing practices and assessing compliance with welfare provisions in slaughterhouses both before and after CCTV, said:

“In my opinion it has improved welfare considerably.”

The slaughter industry has not made a good name for itself. In recent years, the media have reported on: the deliberate adulteration of meat products with horsemeat; the scandalously high levels of Campylobacter in chicken; the theft of firearms from slaughterhouses; the use of a captive bolt gun to commit a murder; and a number of abattoir workers being killed or seriously harmed at work, sometimes through misuse of equipment, poor training or irresponsible behaviour. Add to that the repeated revelations of cruelty to animals and it is clear that there needs to be better monitoring.

The supermarkets have already taken decisive action. All the major chains—Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, the Co-op, Morrisons, Marks and Spencer, Lidl, Aldi, Waitrose and Iceland, as well as wholesaler Booker—now insist that their slaughterhouse suppliers have CCTV installed. This so-called “voluntary” scheme has led to a significant increase in the number of slaughterhouses installing CCTV. The latest Food Standards Agency figures suggest that 19% of red meat slaughterhouses have CCTV, which accounts for around 48% of red meat volume, and 29% of white meat slaughterhouses, which accounts for 59% of poultry meat volume.

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Although that is a positive step, a voluntary scheme has its obvious limitations. Not everyone will install cameras and, as was noted by an FSA board member, it is likely that those who resist installing CCTV are most in need of additional regulation and scrutiny.

There seem to be just three arguments put forward against implementing this much-needed legislation. The first is that CCTV cameras do not work because they were already in one of the slaughterhouses filmed by Animal Aid. My reply is that of course poorly sited cameras with no one monitoring the footage will not work. The answer is ensuring that cameras are in the right place, that recordings are kept for a significant period, and that an independent body, which is focused on the protection of animals, gets to select random or appropriate sections. There is no argument that anyone should view the recordings in their entirety. Clearly, that would be an impractical, onerous task.

The second argument is that veterinary surveys show the same level of compliance in slaughterhouses that have cameras as those that do not. However, we know from investigations that vets do not see the commonplace abuse that takes place in slaughterhouses, so how can they report with any degree of accuracy on levels of compliance? The answer is simply that they cannot.

That exact problem was highlighted again recently when the official number of recorded mis-stuns in slaughterhouses was made public. Vets in slaughterhouses record the cases in which the animals are not stunned properly and at the end of the year those figures are counted up. In 2009, those veterinary figures stated that there were just five mis-stuns of pigs across the whole country for the entire year, but in 2009 Animal Aid placed hidden cameras inside three slaughterhouses, one of which mis-stunned more than 99% of the pigs while another mis-stunned more than 10%. In 2010, the veterinary figures once again suggested that there were just five mis-stuns of pigs across the whole country for the entire year, whereas secret recordings measured 762 mis-stunned pigs in a single slaughterhouse over just three days. It is clear that vets do not see what is happening, which is why we need independently monitored CCTV.

Finally, we come to the cost. The cost of CCTV installation is not prohibitive—it is just a few hundred pounds for the smaller slaughterhouses and £2,000 to £3,000 for the larger ones. Supermarkets report no resistance to their request that slaughterhouse suppliers install cameras. Although those one-off costs are low, there are various funding options that could be explored. They include individual slaughterhouses funding their own cameras, the industry funding them and the Government making available loans or grants. Although money at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is understandably limited, between 2011 and 2014 DEFRA gave more than £900,000 in funding to slaughterhouses through the rural development programme for England. That sum would sufficiently pay for CCTV installation in every slaughterhouse in England that does not have it. In any case, there could be phase-in times and derogations for the smallest slaughterhouses to help facilitate the change.

As for the cost of independent monitoring of the recording, there are options to be explored but we should remember that the taxpayer is already paying in

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the region of £30 million a year to regulate slaughterhouses, and that in terms of animal protection at least that money is clearly not working. It is much better to re-evaluate the system and use those millions to ensure that animal welfare laws are upheld.

In conclusion, CCTV is a practical, sensible and proportionate response to a serious, widespread problem. It will not stop the suffering inside slaughterhouses, but it will deter gross acts of violence that were all too commonly recorded, help vets advise and retrain, and help the FSA clamp down on lawbreaking by providing evidence for prosecutions, should they be necessary.

As its obvious benefits are becoming more widely known, support for making CCTV in slaughterhouses mandatory is growing. More than 170 right hon. and hon. Members have signalled their support for it, whereas a YouGov poll of British adults last year showed that 76% support mandatory CCTV for slaughterhouses with independent monitoring. I note that a petition to No. 10 in support of the measure has now attracted more than 80,000 signatures. I therefore believe that this will be an issue that the House will debate again in the very near future.

7.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) on securing this timely debate, given that we have had the recent publication of the Food Standards Agency’s latest survey on animal welfare in slaughterhouses. I am also aware of Animal Aid’s campaign for compulsory CCTV and the revelations in the media today about apparent incidents at the Bowood abattoir in Yorkshire. In addition, I can tell the House that today we have published a report on CCTV in slaughterhouses by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, which is an expert advisory committee to the Government. I have placed a copy of the report in the Library. The committee has been considering the issue for much of the past year and I am grateful to it for its input.

Animal welfare is a matter on which DEFRA receives a huge amount of correspondence. It really matters to the British public and to the Government. From my personal perspective, although I am not a vegetarian, I was a farmer for nine years and it matters to me. When one rears cattle—when one looks after cattle, pigs and other animals—one wants to know that when they are sent off to market—to their end—they will be spared any unnecessary stress or suffering, and that they will be treated with respect. That matters to all good farmers, to the public and to good slaughtermen, too. I will return to the issue of CCTV and the findings of the FAWC report, but first I will deal with the Bowood incident, reported in the media today following the release of secret footage by Animal Aid.

I was first made aware of the Animal Aid video on 6 January and I asked immediately to see some of the footage that Animal Aid had made available to the FSA. Like many others who will have seen the footage, I found the films distressing and gave my full support to the immediate enforcement action that was being taken.

The FSA acted swiftly to suspend the licences of the four slaughtermen involved. It also launched an immediate investigation into the incidents, and that investigation is ongoing. One of the suspended members of staff was

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subsequently sacked by Bowood, while the remaining three are banned from handling live animals until the investigations have concluded. In addition, I can confirm that the FSA has required the immediate introduction to Bowood of an additional inspector to monitor operations there, and the cost of that additional inspector will be chargeable to the business. The additional officer will have full viewing access to all areas of the plant. Also, I recently asked our deputy chief veterinary officer to commence a piece of work with the FSA to review the way existing regulations are implemented and enforced, with a view to ensuring consistent understanding of what guidelines should be followed to ensure that slaughterhouses abide by the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The report by the FAWC concludes that there are many benefits to CCTV in slaughterhouses, but also sounds a note of caution, stating that CCTV is no panacea, and while it can be a useful tool to complement existing enforcement and management, it cannot replace other management procedures and inspection regimes. It is tempting to conclude that the footage released by Animal Aid proves a point: that perhaps things like this would not happen if CCTV were in place. However, as my hon. Friend acknowledged, the reality is that the Bowood abattoir where Animal Aid secretly recorded its footage already has CCTV. The presence of CCTV did not prevent those apparent incidents, and the Bowood case is not the first example of apparent welfare breaches, including deliberate abuses, found in slaughterhouses where CCTV is present. My conclusion is that CCTV can only ever be part of the answer to improving animal welfare and preventing abuses. It needs to be backed up with other monitoring methods.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I declare an interest as a livestock farmer, as well as my utter disgust on seeing the film of the Yorkshire slaughterhouse. I am a little concerned that many small slaughterhouses are already closing down, mainly because of the costs of regulation and supervision. Does the Minister agree that the introduction of CCTV should be proportionate, so that small slaughterhouses that have a good record on hygiene and animal welfare can be exempted, as the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) suggested?

George Eustice: I was going to discuss some of the options later. Earlier, the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) asked about costs. The FAWC has said that the costs can range from £3,000 to £10,000; that is the committee’s view, but other estimates are higher, at £25,000. Clearly, it depends on the size of the abattoir and the number of areas covered by CCTV, but we do not think the cost of the equipment is prohibitive. It is relatively modest but it is none the less a real cost and we must be careful not to harm smaller abattoirs, particularly those that have good track records on animal welfare.

As I said, the FAWC report states that there are benefits to CCTV. The committee concludes that it has a useful role in recording incidents, helping enforcers by enabling them to look at the footage to check what actually happened. It can also be used for evidence where welfare abuses are suspected. But the benefits of CCTV go wider than its role as a possible deterrent. For instance, it could allow observation of activities in small

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or confined spaces where it would otherwise be difficult for the official veterinarian to observe. The report also concludes that CCTV can provide more accurate ante-mortem inspection in the lairage areas. For example, it is apparent that sheep may mask lameness when a stockman or a vet is present but not under remote observation.

CCTV can also be a valuable training tool for operatives to encourage sensitive and sympathetic behaviour towards animals and to spot any bad practices which could result in incidents or near misses. The report concludes that it is necessary to get the balance right between CCTV being present as a deterrent and a “Big Brother is watching you” device, and using it in a positive way to help train operatives.

I want to say a little about the current situation and the uptake of CCTV. The FSA’s survey of compliance with animal welfare regulations in slaughterhouses in 2013, which was published last week, looked at the extent to which CCTV was already present on a voluntary basis in both red meat and white meat slaughterhouses. It is encouraging to note that the 2013 survey recorded that there has been an increase since 2011 in the use of CCTV, and that 43% of red meat and 55% of white meat slaughterhouses now have CCTV installed. By comparison, in 2010 just 7% had CCTV in the stunning and slaughter area and 8% had CCTV in other areas, so progress has been made.

Of course, these figures illustrate only part of the picture, as even those slaughterhouses that have CCTV installed do not necessarily have it in all areas. For example, red meat slaughterhouses tend to have slightly more CCTV in the lairage and unloading areas than in the stunning or bleeding areas. None the less, the trend towards increased installation and use of CCTV in slaughterhouses is welcome. Once we take into account the fact that the larger abattoirs tend to have CCTV and look at the throughput of those slaughterhouses, the results are even more positive. The proportion of animals slaughtered in premises using CCTV is approximately 83% of sheep, 90% of cattle, 92% of pigs and 98% of poultry. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley pointed out, the fact that 10 of the major supermarkets demand CCTV in slaughterhouses that supply them has, no doubt, been a factor, but I hope hon. Members agree that it is encouraging that much of the meat and poultry industry has reacted positively for calls over recent years for CCTV introduction.

On enforcement, business operators are primarily responsible for the animals in their care at slaughterhouses, whereas the FSA’s official veterinarians are responsible for monitoring the welfare of animals at slaughterhouses. The report by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee points out that since the responsibility ultimately rests with business operators, they have an interest in ensuring that they do their job effectively. CCTV can assist them in doing that. I agree with my hon. Friend on some of the advantages of CCTV and that it can be a powerful tool. I welcome the increased uptake in CCTV, although I recognise its limitations.

I shall touch briefly on the point about mis-stunning, which my hon. Friend raised. On the statistics concerning mis-stuns, the Government accepted last year that these were unlikely to cover 100% of incidents. Official veterinarians do not monitor all killing operations, and for poultry OVs can only ever record the number of

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incidents, rather than the number of animals affected. It is important to clarify what we understand by a mis-stun. Previously, only major and critical breaches where the mis-stun caused pain, suffering or distress were recorded, along with the corrective action taken.

Following questions asked in the House, I asked the FSA to review the way it monitors and reports mis-stuns, and it has now issued new instructions to official veterinarians which requires them to record minor breaches, such as where there may be a superficial concussion owing to an inaccurate position and a second stun is applied immediately afterwards. I hope that in future my hon. Friend’s concerns about the accuracy of data will be addressed.

In conclusion, the key question that the debate raises is whether making it mandatory for slaughterhouses to have CCTV installed will improve animal welfare. The last time the Government looked at the issue, which was

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in 2012, we concluded that mandatory CCTV was not the right way to go. However, I have always been clear that we keep the issue under review and that I have an open mind. I have just received the report from the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, which examines the arguments and evidence for the compulsory installation of CCTV in slaughterhouses. I want to consider its findings fully before reaching a final conclusion. As I have said, I will place a copy of the report in the Libraries of both Houses so that hon. Members can do the same. We have also uploaded the report to the gov.uk website.

We have had an interesting debate. My hon. Friend, who has pursued the issue tirelessly since being elected, raised some important points. I hope that I have been able to address some of his concerns today.

Question put and agreed to.

7.30 pm

House adjourned.