9.34 pm

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): Listening to the Budget was like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. It claimed the most extraordinary things—black is white, poverty has got nothing to do with money, the long-term plan lasts five months between Budgets in March and July, and the minimum wage is now the living wage even though it is not enough to live on. Apparently, it is a Budget for higher wages and a lower welfare economy, but we got a £5 billion wage increase at the expense of £12 billion of social security cuts.

Things get really Orwellian when the Government start talking about housing. Government Members may recall the modest proposal Labour made in relation to private rents. We were asking for just three years’ security. We were not asking for a great deal and we were not forcing rents down, but it was something—it was a start. But good heavens, one would have thought that civilisation as we knew it was about to end! The right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) got extremely excited and called it Venezuelan-style rent controls. So which socialist republic inspired the forced reduction of social rents, which has now been adopted by the Government?

The Government Benches seem to be populated by an awful lot of Maoists. We have heard about the Government’s two-child policy. It now seems that the Conservative party feels we ought to be doing something about pushing down social rents. Why? It would seem that Ministers have discovered that the housing benefit bill is ballooning. Well, yes! And why is that? It is hardly being caused by the social housing sector. Have Ministers not noticed the size of rents in London at the moment? At the very least, they are twice that of social rents. Frankly, Ministers should come with me and find out how much the private rented sector costs people who are trying to remain in Islington. Housing benefit has soared and Ministers have finally noticed it, but they ought to have noticed this: the number of working people claiming housing benefit shot up by 60% under the coalition Government. Ministers should also have noticed that of the increase in the total number of people relying on housing benefit since May 2010, 98% are private sector tenants.

Despite all the evidence, which comes from the Government’s own statistics, we have a proposal to cut spending on housing benefit by bringing down rents in the social sector, but that will not make a great deal of difference. Of course, the logic is this: it is yet another nail in the coffin of social housing. We have seen this agenda laid out in front of us for a long time: the Conservative party has not missed an opportunity to attack social housing. First, there were the cuts to social housing subsidy. Then we had forced conversions to the

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Orwellianly named “affordable” rents of up to 80% of market value, which is hardly affordable in my constituency. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury is pulling the most extraordinary face. What is 80% of market rent in his constituency, and to what extent is that affordable to his constituents? The Government have threatened to lower the benefit cap, extend the right to buy to social housing tenants and force the sale of more expensive council homes. Now there will be forced rent reductions, but only for social landlords. This is an assault on social housing. We know it, they know it and so do the public. We need to ensure the message gets out loud and clear, because it threatens an end to social housing as we know it. It is a disgrace and it is unforgiveable.

Large tranches of the Budget could have been predicted. The Conservatives talked about how much it would be, but they would not give us the details. Those of us who looked at chapter nine of the IFS green budget, “Options for reducing spending on social security”, would have been aware of it. Unfortunately, the Chancellor does not seem to have read up to chapter 10, “Options for increasing tax”, and there were so many good things in it. For example, he missed the option of raising £990 million by abolishing tax relief for empty properties, or raising £1.5 billion through a 1% increase in corporation tax. Instead, he chose to cut it.

This is not a one nation Budget. This Budget is all about the same old Tories: the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.

9.38 pm

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Before I begin, I would like to say to the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), for Erewash (Maggie Throup), for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith), for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) and for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) that they have each made great first contributions to this place. It was a pleasure to hear them. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) also made her first contribution today. She will find that representing the brilliant, funny, kind and generous people of the Wirral is a sincere pleasure and a great honour. She is just like them and we are very proud to have her here.

The Budget needed to do two things: to address the deficit that our country still faces, and to make work pay. I shall address my concluding remarks on this debate to those two principles. I am afraid that on both those issues—on the deficit and on making work pay—the Chancellor has given the British people a con.

On the first of those principles, I remember being on the Back Benches in 2010, knowing that Alistair Darling’s Budget of March that year had seen the economy grow. This Chancellor argued that the emergency Budget in June that year was necessary because the deficit had to be closed—not to be reduced by half by the end of that Parliament, as it would have been under the existing plans, but to be fully closed by 2015. However, as the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) said, the deficit is still too high. I would invite and encourage her to get in touch with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to remind him of the promises he made to the British

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people and to ask him this simple question: what went wrong? What happened? Even after five years of over-promising and under-delivering, the Chancellor has done it yet again.

In fact, as the OBR says on page 15 of the “Economic and fiscal outlook”,

“the budget balance improves…less quickly”

than the Government forecasted in March. If for whatever unfortunate reason for our country the Chancellor were no longer in post in 2019, one wonders whether he would have had the unique honour of presiding only over deficits for each year in which he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and never over a surplus. That is now looking to be a distinct possibility. I wonder what the Chancellor would have said in 2010 if he had known that that was going to be the case. Could he have predicted, I wonder, his failure over his promises?

Secondly, on making work pay, I was 17 when the national minimum wage came in and I was in my second-ever job. A year earlier, at 16, I had my first job and I well recall the payslip; I was paid about £2 an hour. I worked alongside adults—over 18—who were paid the same amount. When the minimum wage came in, it was paid at £3.60 an hour. That national minimum wage had a profound impact on my working life and on the working lives of the people around me.

Last week’s Budget was a kind of back-handed compliment to the Labour Members who introduced the national minimum wage back then. They were so persuasive that it seems they persuaded even the Tory party. It was a compliment to the living wage campaigners who seem to have been so persuasive that they persuaded even the Chancellor, and to the trade unions who seem to have been so persuasive on the need for a pay rise that they persuaded the Chancellor even while the Government were still hell-bent on attacking them.

We should ask ourselves this question. Does the Budget really make work pay? Emphatically not! Tax credits have profoundly improved the ability for work to pay, especially for families that have the extra cost of having children. The damage done to tax credits will see families up and down our country lose out. The Chancellor calls his new “national living wage” just that. He uses the language of a “living wage” all the time while not living up to that promise. Of course an increase in the national minimum wage should be welcomed and is good, but it is not, as Members have mentioned, a living wage as normally understood.

Let us look at the detail of whether this Budget makes work pay. First, as part of its analysis, the Treasury has often produced a distributional outlook showing the impact of Budget measures on different groups—who gets what by decile of income. Not so this time; the Treasury chose not to do it. It is too complicated, it said. Thankfully, however, the IFS did just that, and we have all seen the graph of doom it produced, demonstrating unequivocally that those with the least lose the most. That is the truth of this Budget.

Let us turn to table 1.8 on page 40 of the Red Book to see what the Treasury says about the impact of its changes on families. It gives examples that it describes as “illustrative”, all of which involve people who are working for 35 hours a week, including a lone parent with one child. I do not know many lone parents in my constituency who are easily able to work for 35 hours a

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week. Indeed, many are on contracts involving fewer hours, and could not rely on being able to work for 35 hours a week even if they wanted to. The examples assume growth in the personal allowance—of which we have seen little evidence—in future years. They also assume wage growth, and we wonder whether that is certain at all. All those examples, which suggest that people will be better off, are accurate if, and only if, we can believe a word that the Chancellor says. I hope I have demonstrated that that is not an assumption that British families can make.

Secondly, we need to make work pay in each and every part of our country. Let us look away from the micro for a second, and turn to the macro. Ultimately, we can improve real wages only by increasing the earnings potential of firms in our economy and the working people within them.

The Chancellor could have taken actions in three areas to meet the so-called productivity challenge—in fact, “productivity” is just a jargonistic term for making work pay—but, unfortunately, he did too little in those three areas, which are childcare, infrastructure and skills. On childcare, he looked again to the Labour party for inspiration after the election, stealing our 25-hours policy—[Laughter.] It has not passed me by that my party lost the election, but even if, at times, the public were not listening, the Chancellor clearly was, because he stole our 25-hours childcare policy. Sadly, however, he has delayed its implementation, offering people no real help now.

On infrastructure, I thought that the Chancellor wanted to rebalance the economy, but he has done nothing of the sort. He has cancelled northern rail electrification, and has offered literally no infrastructure improvements to the north-east of England, the region that most requires assistance at this time.

On skills, the Government’s apprenticeships policy sounds broadly right to me, but when I look at their record, I see that they have increased the number of older workers on apprenticeship schemes that are merely rebadged old training schemes. I encourage newer Conservative Members who believe that their Government have presided over a great apprenticeships record to look at the position a little more closely.

Many people who are already in work need to be helped to acquire better skills. Our country has become world-class at generating low-paid jobs from which too few people ever move on. The CBI, that bastion of socialism, has said that we have a skills crisis that the Budget will not fix. In the care sector, for example, staff often start work on low pay and remain on low pay. We need a much bigger strategy than the one that the Government have presented.

The Chancellor should have set out to do two things. He should have addressed his own failure on the deficit and reduced our stock of debt as he promised that he would, and he should have made work pay for ordinary British people and given them a real chance to get on. In fact, the Chancellor has a terrible record on both, and he is trying to con the British people. However, it is worse than that, because the Budget reveals the Chancellor’s real priorities. If we compare and contrast the impact on the north of England with the impact on the south, we see his priorities. If we compare and contrast the steps that he has taken on inheritance tax with those that he has taken on childcare, we see his priorities.

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Compare and contrast the impact on those with least in our country who lose most, with on those at the top who gain. There we have his priorities. If he thinks we in the Labour party will let him get away with it, he should think again.

9.49 pm

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Damian Hinds): In every part of our country this Budget is helping working people meet their aspirations. It will deliver security, stability and prosperity. It will help us in our goal to become the most prosperous major economy in the world by the 2030s.

We build on a strong record: employment up; wages up; living standards rising; the deficit down; and the strongest economic growth expected of any of the major economies—for the second year in a row. As the Chancellor said, the only way to have a strong health service, strong schools, and a strong defence is to build a strong economy, and the British economy today is fundamentally stronger than it was five years ago. But there is much more to do, because for far too long we have struggled under the burdens of low productivity and an economy that is too regionally imbalanced and too skewed towards its capital city. In this Budget we have set out how we will change all that.

London is one of the greatest cities of the world. What we now need is a better settlement for the rest of the UK, one which boosts the rest of the UK while maintaining London’s strength—a regional rebalancing that levels up, not down. That is exactly the settlement we are providing through a combination of greater investment and more devolution, greater powers to Greater Manchester, and progress on devolution deals with the Sheffield city region, the Liverpool city region, the Cornwall and the Leeds, West Yorkshire and partner authorities. There is also a new round of enterprise zones for smaller towns, an extension of the coastal communities fund, major new science, technology and culture projects all over the country, and a roads fund in England funded by vehicle excise duty for the strategic roads our regions need. There is a new statutory body, Transport for the North, to work on bringing the towns and cities of the northern powerhouse closer together, including through Oyster-style ticketing across the north, £13 billion of transport investment in the north, £5.2 billion in the midlands and £7.2 billion in the south-west, and £100 billion of investment in infrastructure in total over the course of this Parliament. There are resurgent cities, a rebalanced economy and thriving communities, and the most ambitious plan in generations for truly one nation growth. This Government are indeed “fixing the foundations”.

Let me reply to some of the specific points Members have raised; with 41 contributions to this debate, I fear I may not manage to respond to all of them, but I did particularly want to mention the seven outstanding maiden speeches, such as that of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald). Given his constituency name, we are all glad he waited for the installation of the widescreen televisions before making it. He enjoyed the rare distinction of being congratulated on his maiden speech in advance of making it as a result of what he described as the ongoing battle of the Stuarts. He also spoke kindly and appropriately of his predecessor Gregg McClymont,

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who is missed here, and of the House authorities and staff and how they make the daunting task of arriving here just that little bit less daunting. I am sure that is a sentiment shared across all parts of this House.

The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) made a new bid in the auction of youth when he announced he had started fighting his seat at the age of 10. He also paid tribute to his predecessor, and although he made a few jokes some of us did not quite understand, as my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) rightly said, he will certainly be a feisty and campaigning MP. He will very much make his mark.

The hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) spoke powerfully, and in the best traditions of maiden speeches took us on a tantalising tour of her constituency, and told us all that is great about it from Incredible Edible to short-eared owls via Zorb ball, the Open golf championship and knitwear-clad lampposts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) is, I believe, a former composer and he certainly showed how to hold an audience, and how he achieved the strongest swing to the Conservatives in the country. In maiden speeches, we often talk about having big boots to fill; he exceeded that when he announced that one of his former constituents was Walter Bagehot.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) talked passionately about education and it is clear that she is going to be fighting hard in this place for her constituents. She follows in an impressive line of MPs who first came to prominence through a Conservative party conference speech in their teens. Before her election, she was also a trustee of Help Victims of Domestic Violence, and I am sure she will bring important knowledge of that subject to this House, too.

I am particularly pleased to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) to his place, because I spent a little time in his beautiful constituency during the election—they were among the hillier days of it. He already has an enviable reputation for the tireless work he does on behalf of his constituents, and he reminded us of the area’s long association with the military, from being Henry V’s setting-off point for Agincourt to being the place where the Spitfire was designed. He also spoke with praise of his predecessor, John Denham, who is also missed and who is now embarked on a career in academia in our county of Hampshire.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) paid tribute to our friend Jessica Lee and said that although Erewash does not exist as a place, it makes almost everything—that is a real tribute to UK engineering. My hon. Friend will bring to the House knowledge of biomedical science and extensive experience of the voluntary sector. I first met her in Rwanda, where she undertook one of her many voluntary work activities.

I wanted to respond to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), on apprenticeships. Let me say to him that there will be a formal agreement with business over the coming period and further details at the spending review, and the system will be based on an employer’s pay bill. Both he

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and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) asked about exports, where a lot more support has been going in from UK Trade & Investment to help exporters, including prospective exporters, to get that first step made.

A number of hon. Members rightly talked about productivity, where we face a long-term challenge—there will be no quick solutions. That is why it is right that the productivity plan goes through the whole range of infrastructure, skills, planning, finance for investment, and making sure that cities have the governance and powers they need to succeed.

More generally, these debates sometimes have a pattern whereby Opposition Members say that they welcome certain bits of the Budget and then say they reject all the others. Of course often all the others are the difficult things we have to do in order to be able to do those first things. We do not deny that there are still difficult things that have to be done to get our country back to where it needs to be, and they include things such as some of the welfare changes and public sector pay restraint. All those things have to be seen in the context of a deficit that is still 5% and that needs to come down further if we are to protect departmental spending and continue to have the brilliant national health service that we all so value.

I will have to write to the hon. Members for South Down (Ms Ritchie), for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) and for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), and to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen). I think I can provide some comfort on the things that they raised but, unfortunately time is against us right now. The same applies to what my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) said about some of the measures on bringing local plans forward.

I wanted to take the opportunity to say to the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) that this is the second time in a few days that she has suggested that the majority of the increase in employment has been in self-employment but that is just not right. Three quarters of that increase has been in employees, and while we are here I might also mention that three quarters of it has also been in full-time employment.

We heard excellent speeches throughout this debate. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) talked about some of the themes in the years ahead, speaking about opportunities for youth, Britain’s place in the world and prosperity for all parts of the UK. I think all Government Members would agree very much with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) reminded us that changes needed to be made so that we could live within our means, and he challenged the Labour party to face up to that reality. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) reminded us of the fate of Charles X when he did not face up to the reality and was expecting the good people of France just to come round to the idea that the revolution had all been a terrible mistake. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) talked about the progress already made on tackling the deficit—as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) said, Britain is very much back in business.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton talked about the importance of work in tackling poverty and in driving life chances. My hon. Friends the Members for Havant (Mr Mak) and for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) talked about the whole range of business support measures in the Budget, and of course it is businesses that create jobs.

We heard a lot about the different priorities in different parts of the country, ranging from what my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) said about the southern powerhouse to the discussion of the Tisbury loop in Wiltshire. My hon. Friends the Members for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) and for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) talked about the importance of the role of mayor, not only as a democratically accountable institution, but as a figurehead for bringing inward investment. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) talked about the beneficial impact of the fuel duty freezes we have had. It was good to see my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) back in his place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) brought all sorts of good news from the south-west in her inimitable fashion—it is good news that will in future no doubt be brought at 140 mph on the Dawlish line or various newly improved A roads.

This Budget offers Britain a fresh settlement. Up and down the country, families will have the security of lower taxes and a national living wage. Our regions will have greater investment flowing to them and more control over their destiny. Our businesses will have the confidence to invest. There will be more jobs, more apprenticeships, higher wages, greater economic security, resurgent cities, more prosperous regions and a northern powerhouse. This is what the people of this country deserve and it is what we are providing. Britain is back in business and we will keep it that way.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Simon Kirby.)

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At business questions on Thursday, the Leader of the House promised to bring forward changed amendments to the Standing Orders for English votes for English laws so that the whole House could have good sight of them before the general debate on Wednesday. My understanding is that these have not yet been brought forward.

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Mr Speaker: Yes, I think that the amendments to which the hon. Gentleman refers have not yet been laid before the House. Therefore, in so far as the hon. Gentleman is concerned that copies of the relevant material are not available in the Vote Office, the reason is as I have given: the matters have not yet been put before the House. That is of course a matter for the Government. The Government Chief Whip is present and will have heard the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that material will be available ere long.

Business without Debate


Mr Speaker: With the leave of the House, we will take motions 3 to 7 together.


Communities and Local Government

That Bob Blackman, Jo Cox, Helen Hayes, Kevin Hollinrake, Julian Knight, David Mackintosh, Mr Mark Prisk, Angela Rayner, Mary Robinson and Alison Thewliss be members of the Communities and Local Government Committee.


That Edward Argar, Bob Blackman, Jenny Chapman, Nic Dakin, Yvonne Fovargue, Patricia Gibson, Patrick Grady, Simon Hoare, Sir Edward Leigh, Ian C. Lucas, Mr Alan Mak and Mr David Nuttall be members of the Procedure Committee.

Science and Technology

That Victoria Borwick, Jim Dowd, Chris Green, Liz McInnes, Dr Tania Mathias, Carol Monaghan, Graham Stringer, Derek Thomas, Matt Warman and Daniel Zeichner be members of the Science and Technology Committee.

Statutory Instruments (Joint)

That Tom Blenkinsop, Michael Ellis, Stephen Hammond and Derek Twigg be members of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Welsh Affairs

That Byron Davies, Chris Davies, Dr James Davies, Carolyn Harris, Gerald Jones, Christina Rees, Antoinette Sandbach, Liz Saville Roberts, Craig Williams and Mr Mark Williams be members of the Welsh Affairs Committee.—(Bill Wiggin, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)

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Broadband (Suffolk)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Simon Kirby.)

10.2 pm

Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): It is a pleasure to bring to the House this evening a debate on an issue that affects not just Suffolk but many rural counties in our country. I wish to put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister for his work on this issue. I know that he has worked very hard over the past five and a half years to ensure that high-speed and superfast broadband can be rolled out to Suffolk and to other counties. He has visited our county on several occasions, and he understands the challenges that we face. It is the single most important issue facing rural Suffolk and many rural businesses and homes. As my hon. Friend is aware, Suffolk has a population of about 750,000 people and there are about 350,000 premises to which we need to get superfast broadband.

The question is what would happen if the matter were left to the open market. We know that BT’s commercial deployment of fibre-based broadband reached around 50% of Suffolk’s premises, but only in parts of the major towns and cities where it was commercially viable to do so. We know that Virgin Media provides coverage to around 67 premises, which is about one in eight, but only in selective parts of Newmarket, Ipswich and Felixstowe. There are also a number of small-scale wireless broadband providers in some parts of the county, where broadband speeds over BT’s copper network remain poor.

It is not just about homes and businesses, but about other issues including how we develop better public sector services for people in rural areas. We know that delivering more integrated and joined-up healthcare, and delivering care in the homes with telehelp and telemedicine to older people are essential, and the way to do that has to be through improving our broadband and rural connectivity. We also know that education in our schools is hugely supported in today’s world by the internet and the connectivity that the internet brings, but many schools in Suffolk still have very slow broadband speeds, and a number of schools in my constituency are struggling with speeds no better than those of dial-up. This needs to change, and I am grateful for the support that my hon. Friend and the Government have already provided to help address these issues.

Farming and agriculture are the backbone of our rural economy. Farmers tell me they do not have the infrastructure connections to enable fast enough broadband to comply with online Government services, including the new common agricultural policy information services, which require them to submit all information online and have an email connection for communication. This is affecting their ability to innovate and use new farm technology and software, which needs to be downloaded from the internet, and meet other Government regulations such as VAT, vehicle tax and animal tagging. Our farmers need to innovate to increase productivity in order to compete in international markets where higher broadband speeds are the norm. It is for the sake of Suffolk farmers that we talk about the last 5%, which I will speak about later. Farmers and agriculture are important drivers of the rural economy, and for their

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benefit we will need additional Government support to reach that last 5%—the farm at the end of the dirt track that still does not have broadband and is struggling.

Suffolk and the Broadband Delivery UK rural broadband programme has had some great success. Suffolk was one of the first two local authorities, with Norfolk, to sign a local call-off contract with BT in the first phase of the BDUK rural broadband programme in December 2012 to extend coverage by 100,000 premises to over 80% of Suffolk premises by the end of 2015. There was a grant of almost £12 million from the Government, for which we are very grateful, and that was matched by another £12 million from Suffolk county council. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) is sitting next to me, because he and I campaigned tirelessly to ensure that we got that money for Suffolk, and we are very grateful for the Government support that our county has received.

Suffolk and Norfolk worked closely with BDUK to develop the milestone-to-cash process for in-life management of local call-off contracts with BT, and helped BDUK to train other local authorities around the country. Suffolk has been the first local authority to work with BT to trial a number of new technology solutions as part of the Suffolk deployment, notably wireless to the cabinet technology, which uses a microwave point-to-point radio link, rather than optical fibre cable, to link an enabled cabinet in a village—for example, Tuddenham in my constituency—back to the network, to avoid what would otherwise have been a lengthy and disruptive road closure and high civil engineering costs.

Suffolk has also used copper re-arrangement technology to re-arrange existing exchange-only lines, and lines previously served by other cabinets, on to a cabinet that was to be upgraded with fibre to the cabinet technology. The process was first trialled in Suffolk, and is now being widely deployed across the country. Suffolk has used a number of other technologies, including fibre to the remote node technology and fibre to the distribution point technology—topics which my hon. Friend the Minister may wish to talk further about in his response.

Suffolk has led the way nationally in what we have been doing on delivering faster broadband and superfast broadband to very rural areas—areas where there would otherwise have been commercial failure, areas where operators such as BT and Virgin would not have shown any commercial interest because it was not commercially viable to take superfast broadband to the consumer. That is where the Government money is being spent, and, as a result, Suffolk was the first local authority to sign a second local call-off contract under the superfast extension programme, to extend coverage to a further 50,0000 premises, which means that over 95% of Suffolk premises will be receiving superfast broadband by 2018.

That was supported by a grant of £15 million from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, matched by another £10 million from Suffolk county council and £5 million from the New Anglia local enterprise partnership. It is an example of Government working with the county council and the local enterprise partnership for the benefit of the county, recognising the importance of supporting rural businesses in Suffolk, and making sure that schools and the health service are considered part of that rural broadband roll-out.

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Suffolk has signed up to the accelerated deployment process, agreed between BDUK and BT, to bring forward the end of the second contract by six months from the end of 2018 to mid-2018, so Suffolk is ahead of schedule in the roll-out of the first contract to reach 80% of premises, and moving ahead of schedule also on the second contract. I hope that the Government will recognise and reward Suffolk’s success in rolling out superfast broadband when we come to the third roll-out to the final 5% later this year. There are still questions about how to get superfast broadband to the final 5% in some of the county’s most rural areas, where farms and rural businesses are often operating on dial-up speeds. That situation is clearly unacceptable and needs to change urgently.

Let me set out the current status of the Better Broadband for Suffolk programme. As at the end of June, Suffolk has extended coverage to 90,986 premises, against a target of 100,000, so we are on track to complete deployment under our first contract with BT by the end of September. Those premises would not have been commercially viable and would not have received superfast broadband without support from the Government or the county council. That is a tremendous achievement. Peter Ingram and the Better Broadband for Suffolk team should be commended for all that they have done.

However, there is still more to do. Concerns have been raised with me—I would appreciate it if my hon. Friend the Minister would address these when he responds—about the conduct of BT. In general, Suffolk has a good relationship with BT, and the first contract is on track to meet, or slightly exceed, its coverage target of 100,000 homes by the end of September 2015, and within budget, which is rare for public sector projects.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. I think that he is about to move on to the nub of an issue that I want to raise. Does he agree that part of the problem in Suffolk is that for many years BT has underinvested in its commercial roll-out? That means the Government and Suffolk County Council’s resources have been diverted from tackling the real problem of getting to the hard-to-reach areas. I have in mind a case from the town of Beccles, where my constituent Mr Tony Twomey has been waiting for months to get superfast broadband.

Dr Poulter: My hon. Friend is right to raise his constituent’s concerns and to highlight the fact that although the relationship between BT and the county council on the roll-out has generally been good, there have been concerns.

The money was originally put in place to hit those non-commercially viable areas, but not to supplement BT in activities that are commercially viable for it. Better Broadband for Suffolk has raised concerns with me about BT’s behaviour in a couple of areas, and I want to touch on those briefly. I would appreciate it if my hon. Friend the Minister could respond to some of those concerns, because they might affect some of the contractual relations with BT, particularly with regard to the third phase of funding, which is expected later this year.

We know that BT’s claims for its commercial coverage in certain trouble spots included villages on long lines from commercially enabled cabinets that got no benefit

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from the upgrade, and that were excluded from Suffolk’s intervention area under the first contract. BT was slow to admit the problem, initially promising the villages that they would be upgraded commercially and then reneging on that promise. The affected areas have been included within the Suffolk intervention area under the second contract as a result, but BT has been slow to prioritise coverage of the affected areas—my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney has just pointed that out—which will now be delivered more than two years later than originally planned. The residents of Suffolk, our constituents, are suffering as a result.

Suffolk has had similar problems getting BT to prioritise coverage of industrial estates and business parks, which are vital to the county’s economy, particularly in rural areas. In general, BT tends to ignore Suffolk’s priorities in favour of its own, which many of my constituents find unacceptable.

Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): I wish to reiterate the points my hon. Friend is making. This is an issue not only in his constituency but in mine. Whole streets in villages such as Old Newton and Bacton have no service. This is the fourth utility. It affects every Department, including the Department for Work and Pensions through universal credit, which is a digital platform; the Department of Health as we roll out telehealth; and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs through the basic payment scheme. It disables our constituents if we do not give them the facility of broadband. A £6 million company in Ingham in my constituency is failing to expand as it wants to because it does not have broadband. That should be addressed.

Dr Poulter: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a pleasure to speak alongside her in this debate. Her advocacy on issues such as broadband in rural areas will be greatly appreciated by her constituents.

The speed of roll-out has not been helped by BT, because Better Broadband for Suffolk and the county council have had difficulty in managing the contract. During the first half of the deployment, under Suffolk’s first contract for 100,000 premises to be covered, it was clear that Better Broadband for Suffolk had the potential significantly to exceed the contractual parameters in delivering on budget and to a more rapid timescale. Latterly, it has been clear that BT has been limiting Better Broadband for Suffolk’s efforts. It has been only just meeting the contractual parameters and planning sufficient structures slightly to exceed the contracted plans, not putting any further structures in place. BT will not go faster when Better Broadband for Suffolk could deliver faster. That has been to the detriment of our constituents, who have not received broadband in the timely manner they should expect. That is particularly true of many rural businesses.

There has also been a problem with BT on availability. BT has been slow to recognise and respond to issues that prevented customers from ordering upgraded services on newly built lines, with delays sometimes lasting many months and cases where Openreach has demanded that excess construction charges be applied to make the final customer connection. Some upgraded cabinets have become fully utilised quickly, and it has then taken more than three months for Openreach to install additional

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capacity. That is unacceptable. Taxpayer subsidy—taxpayers’ money—is being delivered through financial support from the county council, the Government and the LEP, with many millions of pounds going into this. When there is the capacity to go further and faster more effectively to support rural businesses and to deliver broadband more speedily for our residents and our constituents, that should be enabled and encouraged, not slowed down by BT. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will outline what the Government can do better to hold BT to account through Broadband Delivery UK and how this might affect the allocation of the money for the final 5%. I would be grateful for his thoughts on these issues that have affected our constituents.

According to Which? magazine’s analysis, customer experience of broadband has been patchy. It found—we have found this in Suffolk as well—that only 17% of households with fixed broadband received an average speed that matched their advertised “up to” speed, and that this figure dropped to 15% during peak times, when the advertised superfast broadband speed is not as fast as it should be. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend outlined what measures will be available to consumers in Suffolk who are suffering from lower than expected and lower than advertised broadband speeds.

There is also a clear issue of superfast broadband being superfast only at times of low usage. That is a problem for businesses, in particular. They will obviously be using the internet and broadband services at peak times, and if the superfast broadband service that they have bought into is not superfast, then it is not fit for the purpose for which it was intended. This issue will need to be urgently addressed as part of the future roll-out process, as will the way in which we support existing businesses to ensure that they can get the speed of service that they need in order to be effective in looking after their clients and customers.

I have three or four questions for the Minister. I hope that the Government will bring forward proposals and funding for tackling the final 5% as soon as possible. The sooner there is certainty on the proposals, the better for our residents in Suffolk. Suffolk is keen to ensure that the final 5% of customers can enjoy the same fast, reliable, sustainable and future-proof solution that has been put in place for the other 95%. We want to avoid creating a digital divide between the 95% who will receive superfast broadband by 2017 and the remaining 5%, and Suffolk will be willing to work with BDUK on alternative approaches to achieving that objective.

Suffolk supported the Government’s commitment to the universal service commitment of at least 2 megabytes per second by the end of 2015. For that policy commitment to be fulfilled for those who may have to wait until 2018 or beyond to get a superfast broadband service, it is imperative that the scheme delivers the 2 megabytes per second as soon as possible, and in time to ensure that services can be delivered by the end of 2015.

In delivering superfast broadband for Suffolk, I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister not only addressed the issues about BT and the final 5%, but picked up on whether we can ensure that improved broadband services are linked with better mobile technology and improved mobile phone reception in our area. We know it is vital that all people running rural businesses—for

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example, farmers needing satellite imaging on their combine harvesters—have broadband connectivity that is not just about fibre to the home, but broader in being linked online through a portable device. That issue is intrinsically connected with mobile phone coverage and 4G.

As part of the roll-out of the third phase of broadband funding to deal with the last 5%, I would be grateful for my hon. Friend’s support in ensuring joined-up thinking by the Government, as I am sure there will be, and that businesses in the most rural areas—particularly those operating out of doors, such as farming—are properly supported.

In conclusion, there are questions for the Minister on the conduct of BT, on the final 5% and ensuring that proposals are made in a timely manner, and on joining up mobile phone coverage to ensure that there is a holistic approach that benefits both Suffolk residents and the taxpayer.

10.22 pm

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am very grateful for the chance to reply to this important debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) for securing it, and I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) for their timely interventions.

May I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich both for his kind words about the work I have done during the past five years in rolling out the superfast broadband programme and for the balanced tone of his speech? I must confess that too often in these debates I hear from many colleagues one long whinge about the superfast broadband programme. That is difficult for me to take, because I know that it has been an absolutely stunning success. I must say that my hon. Friend balanced his remarks by pointing out the programme’s extraordinary success in his own county of Suffolk. Before my remarks are somehow misinterpreted as portraying him as some kind of quisling rolling over to the Minister, let me say that he showed a superb understanding of the programme, which meant that the points he made at the end about how things could be improved had additional force and perspicacity, and therefore deserve the fullest answers.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks, because they also reflected very well on Peter Ingram and the Suffolk team, who have been instrumental in making the county of Suffolk one of the textbook examples of how to run a good programme. It is worth reminding ourselves that this is a partnership of central Government funding and direction working with local authorities. The most successful programmes are those in which a local authority such as Suffolk and the local enterprise partnership, which my hon. Friend also praised, work in harmony in clearing away the obstacles and working together to achieve success. That is why, for example, some 17,500 premises in my hon. Friend’s constituency will get superfast broadband thanks to the programme in phases 1 and 2, as well as 8,500 in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney and 16,000 in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds.

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The programme is successful, but my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich made six points to which he asked me to respond. The first is the conduct of BT and, in particular, its reneging on promises when it has planned to roll out to a village and then does not. He also asked what it is doing to support business parks. Although I am unstinting in my praise for the way in which BT has rolled out the national programme, there is no doubt in my mind—I have said this before—that it has some problems with customer service.

One issue has been that BT has promised broadband and then not delivered it to certain communities. When BT gets on the ground and does the mapping exercises, it might find that getting to a particular village is more complicated than it had thought, so it revises its plan. There is no doubt that that causes great consternation to villagers who were expecting broadband to be delivered. It is my intention in the autumn to update all relevant Members of the House on the progress of broadband in their constituencies to make it absolutely clear where broadband will be delivered. It is important to warn those who might be at the tail end of the programme that they might have to wait some time. We cannot deliver it overnight.

Business parks and industrial estates are also an issue that we negotiate regularly with BT. Again, the issue is somewhat balanced. It surprises me sometimes that business parks do not take it into their own hands to provide superfast broadband for tenants. The market is replete with numerous business suppliers of broadband. As we found from our business voucher scheme, which has connected 25,000 businesses, we have more than 600 registered suppliers all over the country that are more than willing to provide superfast broadband. Business broadband is a different beast from residential broadband.

On the question of BT not exceeding its contracted plans with Suffolk, there is good news on the way. We can consider some of the more advanced counties, by which I mean advanced in terms of time if not achievement. For example, Cornwall, which originally contracted for 80% coverage, has reached 95% with the same money. We expect shortly to be able to look at where money is coming back under the programme, because we get money back under the contract as more people take up broadband, and at whether money is available to extend roll-out even further. That links to my first point, as BT, perhaps keen not to over-promise, leaves some of my

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hon. Friends with a feeling of frustration, but I am certain that BT will be able to exceed its contracted plans and that in a short time we will be able to announce how that will benefit Suffolk.

I shall take away with me the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich about BT being tardy in installing additional capacity in cabinets where demand is high, as again I suspect that it is more to do with BT customer service than any sinister plot to deny broadband to customers who are waiting.

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that last month Ofcom made it clear that consumers will from now on be able to terminate their contract with any broadband provider that does not provide advertised speeds with absolutely no penalty. It is quite right to put the power in the hands of the consumer so that they can walk away from contracts that do not fulfil what they promised.

I know that Suffolk is not well served by mobile broadband roll-out. We have a landmark deal with mobile providers to provide 90% geographic coverage, as opposed to premises coverage, and that should be in place by the end of 2017. We are working quickly and effectively with mobile operators to get better mobile broadband coverage for my hon. Friend’s constituents, which is fast becoming almost as important as fibre coverage.

Finally, I hear what my hon. Friend says about the final 5% and I am keen to announce plans as soon as possible, and certainly before the end of the year, about how we intend to reach that final 5%. It is certainly our intention to leave no one behind and we think that there are two or three different ways in which we can secure a timely roll-out for the final 5% so that by the end of this Parliament virtually everyone in this country will have access to very fast superfast broadband speeds.

I thank my hon. Friend once again for his well-judged speech, which showed a comprehensive understanding of the broadband programme with some timely and constructive critiques of the plan, which I have taken on board.

Question put and agreed to.

10.29 pm

House adjourned.