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Commons Chamber

Volume 567: debated on Thursday 5 September 2013

House of Commons

Thursday 5 September 2013

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—

National Lottery

1. What recent estimate she has made of the amount of money spent by the national lottery on good causes. (900110)

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Many people across the country will not necessarily know that the huge increase in Sport England funding for sports facilities through the Inspired Facilities fund was generated by the change this Government made to the lottery funding, and I am very grateful for it. Last week, he saw, with me, the huge improvements made at our newly regenerated Gloucester athletics track and the case prepared by the Gloucester rowing club to make to Sport England. Does he agree that both those things will represent a fantastic Olympic legacy for my city?

Yes, I do. One of the best things we have done is to raise the amount of money sport receives through the national lottery, from 13.7% when we came to power to 20% now. That has allowed improvements such as the ones my hon. Friend has detailed, and I congratulate him on his leadership in his constituency and the great work being done by volunteers in all those clubs.

Tour de France

2. What steps she is taking to ensure that the Tour de France stages held in Yorkshire in 2014 are successful. (900111)

The Government are contributing up to £10 million to help deliver a professional, safe and enjoyable Tour de France grand départ in Yorkshire, Cambridge and London in 2014. A board chaired by Sir Rodney Walker has been set up to oversee the delivery of all stages of the event.

I very much welcome the £10 million of Government funding towards the costs of the Tour de France coming through my constituency and the rest of Yorkshire. One big concern, however, is the security and policing costs. How does the Minister see those being met?

When we drew up the budget that Sir Rodney Walker now oversees, it was clear that the local security costs were to be met from the £11 million that will be raised by Yorkshire, not the £10 million raised by the Government. I just say to my hon. Friend, as a gentle point of reference, that if there is controversy about this matter now—I do not know whether there is in Yorkshire—it is pretty extraordinary to have bid for an event without working out how the security is to be paid for.

The Tour de France is yet another major sporting event taking place in England. It will showcase one of the most beautiful parts of our countryside, but one issue of controversy will not go away: the fact that there is no women’s race as part of the Tour de France. The success of British women cyclists makes that hard to understand, particularly at a time when we are trying to encourage more women to get involved in sport. Will the Minister join me in backing women cyclists and say to the sport’s governing bodies, the owners of the Tour de France, their sponsors and the media that this is an argument that has long been lost and that they should come together to ensure that there is a women’s part of the Tour de France in 2014?

I find myself in complete agreement with my opposite number. Of course, the slight complication with the Tour de France is that it is run by a private organisation, not by the international federation, and it therefore relies on sponsorship and other things. There are a number of factors to sort out, but the central point that the hon. Gentleman makes is absolutely correct—this should be competed for by men and women alike—and I will do everything I can to help.

Internet Companies

3. What steps have internet companies taken in response to the meeting with Ministers on 18 June 2013. (900112)

I called the summit to explore, with industry, the Internet Watch Foundation and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre further actions to remove child abuse material from the internet. A zero-tolerance approach was agreed, and good progress is being made across a number of measures. That will see a real change in the way this issue is dealt with in the UK.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer, but will she be a bit more specific and say what steps have been taken to put age verification in place at the level of filters of browsers, to prevent children from viewing indecent material?

The matter that the hon. Lady raises is slightly different from the one I was talking about, which was the measures we are putting in place to deal with illegal content. Such measures include: a more proactive approach for the IWF; splash pages; and considering further ways in which technology can be used to do more in the area. She is right to raise the matter, because we are also doing a great deal to tackle harmful material that is on the internet, including on access by people who are under 18. The providers are working, in particular, to put in place network-level filtering to make sure that customers access only age-specific material. Those changes are being put in place now, not just for new customers, but for existing customers.

This is indeed a serious matter. The Secretary of State speaks of harmful material. Does she think that a similar approach involving CEOP would prove fruitful in dealing with websites that contain material inciting people to take their own lives?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to ensure that we tackle such problems, whether they involve bullying online or inciting people to take their own lives. We are working directly with ISPs and with those who have websites to ensure that there is more moderation and that there are opportunities to turn off anonymous postings. Those are the practical measures that can be put in place to help people have safer access to the internet.

Since we last met, we have seen the National Audit Office’s devastating report on the Government’s failure on broadband, which is extremely important to many people, but I am not going to ask the Government about that—[Laughter.] No, I am not, because also since we last met two children have taken their own lives following cyber-bullying; that is also a matter of extreme concern to people in this country. I have arranged to see the Latvian ambassador to discuss whether is co-operating properly with the police. The Government did not even mention social media in their summit conclusions or their communications paper. Why does the Secretary of State not put a legal obligation on social media sites to tackle cyber-bullying?

The hon. Lady needs to be very careful with what she is talking about. We are absolutely taking action on cyber-bullying. There is already guidance in place to help schools and to help children understand cyber-bullying more effectively. It is clear not just from what I am saying but from what the Prime Minister has said that it is absolutely unacceptable to have such abuse online. I am pleased to say that has taken the problem very seriously and put in place more robust reporting mechanisms, increased moderation on the site, and given people the opportunity to turn off anonymous postings. Those are the sort of practical changes that can make websites safer for young people to use, but ultimately we must ensure that parents work with their children, too.

The Secretary of State has taken significant steps to protect children online, and the introduction of ISP-level filtering is a significant move. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the debate is far more complicated, however, than simply switching the filter on or off? Software developers have a significant responsibility and parents must ultimately be responsible, but does the Secretary of State agree that schools have a part to play by updating their sex education lessons and curriculum to ensure that people understand the greatest risks?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and he is right: we are at the forefront of online safety. It is not just me saying that; the Family Online Safety Institute says it, too. It is really important that we acknowledge that not only ISPs and people who have websites should take these matters seriously. As he said, parents and schools should take their role seriously, too.

Nuisance Calls

We have introduced and increased penalties for companies that breach the regulations, we have encouraged greater co-operation between regulators and we have improved guidance for consumers. In our strategy paper, published at the end of July, we made proposals to enable the regulators to share their information better.

The most insidious calls start with the words, “Don’t worry, this is not a sales and marketing call.” If a person answers the survey, they are told that someone will call them about their needs and a veritable barrage of unwanted sales calls follows. What action will the regulator take to combat this insidious action, and if the regulators will not act, what will my hon. Friend do?

I would have thought that the most insidious call started with the words, “I am calling from the Labour party”, but in any event we are going to take action. That includes lowering the threshold at which enforcement action can be taken. We have introduced higher fines and technology will play an important part in enabling better calling line identification.

A constituent of mine was receiving nuisance silent calls. He rang his ISP, which said that it could not help. He rang the Telephone Preference Service, which said that it does not police silent calls. He then rang Ofcom, which told him that it could not do anything and that he should change his number. Is not the problem that no single authority is responsible for dealing with nuisance calls?

It is certainly problematic that two regulators deal with the issue, given the nature of the regulations, but one thing that I have tried to do—I think this is working effectively—is to ensure that the Information Commissioner’s Office and Ofcom work together more closely. We want to ensure that they can share data, and they have published a joint strategy paper.

Residents in the borough of Kettering are plagued by nuisance calls and they tell me that, despite registering with the Telephone Preference Service, the calls still get through. What can the Minister or Ofcom—or anyone—do, especially about companies that phone from other countries and jurisdictions?

Two important points arise from my hon. Friend’s question, the first of which is that we have to examine carefully consumers’ consent, because we need much more clarity about when a consumer gives consent for a direct marketing call. On calls from abroad, we need to change the technology, but I was pleased by BT’s evidence that we will begin to be able to identify such calls.

2012 Paralympic Games (Legacy)

Paralympic legacy is a key element of the Government’s and the Mayor of London’s legacy programme. Disabled people’s participation in sport is increasing and more is being invested to make disabled sport accessible.

The British Paralympians made our country proud last year, but last week the lesser known Special Olympics, which does a great job alongside the Paralympics, were held in Bath. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the “tremendous ten” from Redditch on winning more than 20 medals in those games, including 15 golds?

I absolutely join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Special Olympics on organising a fantastic and successful event in Bath, which my right hon. Friend the Member Minister for Sport attended. I also join her in celebrating the success of the Redditch athletes.

Grass-roots Sport

Sport England is investing more than £1 billion in youth and community sport between 2013 and 2017. This includes money invested through the whole-sport plans, school games and the facilities development fund, which, at the current reckoning, has improved about 1,400 sports clubs.

Having mentored at the Fight for Peace boxing and martial arts academy in Newham, I have seen at first hand its innovative five-pillar model to get NEETs—those not in education, employment or training—into work or study. A review by the Laureus Foundation found that it saved £4 for every pound invested by cutting crime and welfare dependency. Will my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State come to have a look at the academy and see what the Government can do to put their weight behind it?

Of course. That would be an enormous help to those of us who believe in the power of sport to achieve such outcomes, so perhaps my hon. Friend will also highlight the case to the Department for Work and Pensions and others interested in this area.

But what is the Minister doing about swimming? Does he not realise that it is vital that we build on the Olympic legacy for swimming? Will he meet the Education Secretary to ensure that the Government follow through the recommendation of the Education Committee’s “School sports following London 2012” report that there should be a plan for all schools to access swimming pools? Will he also support my campaign to keep Holden Lane pool in Stoke-on-Trent open?

We and the Department for Education are looking at the Select Committee report carefully. I was at a meeting on school sport at the Department for Education only yesterday, so I can give the hon. Lady an absolute commitment. However, I would be a little nervous about giving her an absolute commitment about her swimming pool without knowing the facts. There has been a problem that pools built in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s are no longer economical, for environmental and other reasons, whereas new pools have a much better performance, so I would need to be sure that her pool was not part of that group.

Will the Minister join me in thanking Sport England for its investment in Nailsworth tennis club and the Football Foundation for its investment in Frampton football club? He will recognise that those are examples of the investment that is making a real difference to community sport throughout my constituency.

I certainly congratulate Sport England, which deserves particular credit for the way in which it runs the “Places People Play” fund, which I suspect was responsible for the first of the improvements that my hon. Friend mentioned. That fund could not have been put in place without the increase in funding that sport got from the national lottery in 2010.

Does the Minister share my concern that survey after survey shows that fewer and fewer children are participating in sport in school?

I am not sure that that is entirely right. If one talks to many of the big sport governing bodies, such as British Cycling, one hears that huge numbers of people who are cycling are not picked up by the exacting criteria on which the surveys are based. As the hon. Gentleman knows, starting this September—this was the point of yesterday’s meeting—the new primary school sports premium means that £150 million will be shared by every primary school in the country. Each school will receive between £8,000 and £10,000 specifically ring-fenced to spend on sports. I would be very disappointed indeed and there would be real questions in the House if that did not produce a substantial upturn.

There are some excellent legacy initiatives, but the one thing that was not there initially was connecting ordinary people with the “be inspired, get involved” local community sporting opportunities. The Prime Minister has so far not met me and now the “get involved” initiative has written to all councils in England and Wales. Will the Minister now meet me, the Sport and Recreation Alliance and the Community Sports Partnership Network to discuss how the Government can support this initiative?

Greg Dyke has recently taken the helm at the Football Association, which is responsible for grass-roots football. Does the Minister agree, as I do, with Henry Winter of The Daily Telegraph, who says that Greg Dyke has set the wrong targets, and that rather than focusing on the performance of the England team, the FA should be promoting more coaches, to do some real good for grass-roots football?

I thank the hon. Lady for that one: enter the controversy on day one! One thing that we learned from the Olympics last summer is that one of the very best ways of getting more young people to play sport is to put role models in the shop window. The honest answer to her question is that it is a combination of the two things. If the England team can win a World cup by 2022, which I hope very much it can—it would be nice if it won one in 2014, actually—that will be of enormous benefit. The Government contributed to the new National Football Centre, precisely to achieve the objectives that she shares.

Despite the good work that is obviously going on all around the country, participation in sport is falling, especially in school sport. [Interruption.] The Minister says that it is not, but the Chance to Shine survey shows that half of all pupils are not even doing two hours’ sport a week, the Smith Institute survey shows that 68% of school sports staff report a decrease in participation, and his own Department’s figures show a 10% fall in the number of primary school children taking part in sport. That is very worrying indeed. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) mentioned the Secretary of State for Education, and I am sure that the Minister will agree that as in so many ways the Secretary of State is making matters worse here. So often, sport is teamwork. For the sake of sport, may we have some teamwork across Government? A year on from the Olympics, the price that is being paid for this Government’s dismantling of the programmes that the last Government put in place is now becoming clear.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The last active people survey showed that since we won the bid in 2005, against an exacting target, 1.4 million extra people were playing sport who were not doing so in 2005. As for dismantling the target, I seem to remember that it was the Government in which the right hon. and learned Lady served who cut the amount of funding that sport gets through the national lottery from 20% when they came into power in 1997 to 13.7% when we took power in 2010—something we have now reversed.


7. What progress her Department has made on the roll-out of broadband to rural communities; and if she will make a statement. (900117)

Thirty-eight local broadband contracts have now been signed under our rural broadband programme, representing over 95% of the total project funding allocations. Ten projects have already provided their first superfast broadband connections and delivery is now moving ahead across the country.

My constituents in Brocton and other villages, especially those who work from home or run businesses there, are looking forward to faster broadband speeds. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the benefits of superfast broadband in rural areas?

There is an enormous amount of evidence of the economic advantages in not just rural areas but across the country of faster broadband, and that is why the Government are putting in place a programme that will see more than £1 billion-worth of investment going into this vital infrastructure.

11. The National Audit Office has exposed lamentable failings in the rural broadband programme, including the absence of competitive provision, which we have discussed in the Chamber. Its report tells us that BT is to be handed £1.2 billion for this project, but, for example,“The Department does not know how much contingency BT has included.”Will the Secretary of State insist that BT provide full 20:20 cost-transference before public money is handed over? (900123)

The right hon. Gentleman should also acknowledge that the NAO report stated that the value-for-money controls in contracts appeared to be robust. We all know that BT will be paid only on the basis of actual eligible costs incurred. I hope he will join me in celebrating a programme that will deliver such an important piece of infrastructure to communities up and down the country.

Horserace Betting Levy

8. What progress she has made on replacing the horserace betting levy as a means of funding horse racing; and if she will make a statement. (900118)

I agreed to extend the time scale for discussions between racing and the bookmakers on a long-term deal to 31 October, as a voluntary agreement is far preferable to Government intervention. I strongly encourage both sides to agree a deal that includes a contribution to cover the offshore business. I am also looking closely at the details of the recent EU Commission state aid ruling on a levy for online gambling in France and will consider the implications for any read-across to our own process.

I thank the Minister for that response. He will be aware that discussions on how to replace or improve the levy have been going on for a long time and that racing continues to be underfunded. Does he agree that, although there is the 31 October deadline for the levy negotiation, it is important that racing and betting come to a more commercial agreement? Will he continue to work with both parties to bring about such an agreement?

Certainly. Given the importance of both the racing and betting sides to the industry, it remains a matter of some despair to me—I think that this view has been shared by successive Governments—that in this day and age the two sides cannot get together and conclude a voluntary agreement. It absolutely should be commercial, and I hope that any agreement reached by the end of October will be for a long-term settlement to give the industry the stability it needs.


Under our super-connected cities programme, we have made £150 million available to support broadband in cities across the country, including Edinburgh. It is one of five cities piloting the voucher scheme, which will eventually reach 22 cities.

Edinburgh is indeed one of those cities, and that support from the Government is welcome, but there are households right in the city centre that, under present plans, will not get superfast broadband because, on the one hand, BT says that providing them with it would not be commercial and, on the other hand, they are regarded as areas in which it can be developed commercially so they do not get aid under EU state aid rules. Will the Minister get involved and ensure that all households in urban areas get superfast broadband and are not left out, as some of my constituents will be?

We are determined that by the end of 2015 every house will have at least 2 megabits broadband, but I will certainly work with the hon. Gentleman to ensure that if there are pockets of Edinburgh that will not get access to superfast broadband, either commercially or under the super-connected cities programme, we will look at creating a solution.

What assessment has the Minister made of the conclusion that the Government will fail to reach their urban targets for rolling out superfast broadband and that rural broadband speeds will remain woefully slow?

My conclusion is that rural broadband speeds will increase considerably. We are on target to reach 88% of the country with superfast broadband by the end of 2015, and I fully expect us to reach 90% in early 2016. We will be reaching 10,000 homes a month by next month, and I fully expect that pace to continue.

May I remind the Minister that literally four miles from here, in Rotherhithe and Surrey Docks, in the capital city, there are still areas that are have woefully slow broadband, to the disadvantage of a very dynamic community? Will he look again to see whether we can speed up both BT and the programme so that the capital city, like the rest of the country, can have the broadband it needs to be the most efficient and effective that it can be?

I will happily work to ensure that for the capital. There will always be pockets of slow broadband. I was interested to read recently about a couple from Cornwall who went to visit Google in silicon valley and found that the superfast broadband speed in the hotel was slower than it was in Cornwall, which is the result of our programme.

10. If she will publish maps showing which areas of the country are not expected to be covered by broadband by 2015. (900122)

The Government are encouraging all broadband projects to publish maps showing their expected coverage of superfast broadband, and I hope that the Scottish Government will do likewise.

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and hope that he is successful in his efforts to persuade the Scottish Government to release the information. Social landlords in Glasgow tell me that many areas in the city lack any basic infrastructure. Given that access to basic broadband is increasingly a matter of social justice, does the Minister agree that the public should automatically know where not-spots are located so that they can hold Governments and providers to account?

We have asked local authorities to make this information available where it is appropriate. The plans are set out and they may change, but each local authority has to make the decision by itself. I will happily meet the hon. Lady to discuss the provision of broadband in social housing in Glasgow and work with her to see what we can do to increase speeds there.

North Yorkshire has recently published its maps and is very close to getting to 95% coverage across the county. We need a couple of million pounds more from Government. Will the Minister use his charm and persuasive ability to urge Broadband Delivery UK to give it to us?

As Opposition Members stress repeatedly, it is important that we ensure that we get value for money. If my hon. Friend wants to make the case to me, I will listen. North Yorkshire is already three months ahead of schedule, and that is symptomatic of the programme, which is beating its targets all the time.

I represent Shoreditch, which has a reputation for being a very connected, tech-focused area of London, yet I am inundated with complaints from businesses and residents about the problems of physical connectivity, the time it takes to make the connection, and particularly about the virtual monopoly of BT Openreach, the charges it makes, and the service it provides to businesses such as Perseverance Works. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this and see what can be done to make sure that we have proper connectivity in Hackney?

Of course I will meet the hon. Lady to discuss it. However, as regards BT’s so-called monopoly, it is important to stress that BT has the lowest market share of any incumbent provider in any major European country. BT Openreach is open to all providers, such as TalkTalk and Sky. We have some of the lowest broadband prices in Europe, and we should celebrate that.

BBC Work Force

12. What recent discussions she has had with the BBC Trust about that BBC attracting a more diverse work force. (900125)

The BBC’s work force and output should reflect the diversity of Britain today. My Department and I have had regular discussions with the BBC about this, and in May 2013 I wrote to the director-general seeking his support for our “Think, Act, Report” initiative. I encourage all broadcasters to tap into the creative talents of everyone in the UK, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity or disability.

Is the Secretary of State aware, though, that if one asks those at the BBC how many people they employ have been state educated, they look very shifty and drop John Humphrys into the conversation. It is a fact, in my experience, that very many of the senior personnel in the BBC are from private, independent school backgrounds. Is it not about time that this great corporation opened its doors to talent from the state sector as well?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that there should be transparency across the BBC’s activities. As a state-educated Secretary of State, I think we should be proud of people who have had a state education and have leading positions in this country.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the biggest problem with the lack of diversity at the BBC is the political viewpoint of the people who work there? To that end, what is she saying to Lord Hall, who has started by recruiting James Purnell to a highly paid job without any advert whatsoever, and he has started to recruit his new Labour chums to senior positions in the BBC too? Does she agree that it should be the British Broadcasting Corporation, not the Blairite Broadcasting Corporation?

My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right that the impartiality of the BBC is one of its cornerstones and is vital. I always keep these things under careful review.

Creative Industries

The Government provide funding for the sector skills councils for the creative industries to ensure that people in the creative industries have the right skills to grow their businesses and compete successfully on the global stage. We have also set up skills funding schemes such as the skills investment fund and the digital content production fund.

The creative industries are among the most successful in the country, they are vital for the economic recovery and are a key sector of the future. The Sharp project in Manchester has told me that the UK video gaming industry is fast losing the skilled coders that it needs to continue. Has the Secretary of State had any discussions with the Secretary of State for Education and the Chancellor about the promised developments on the information and communications technology curriculum and tax breaks to support the industry?

Yes, I have. In fact, I am very pleased to say that one of the first things I did as a Minister was commission a report on skills which has been adopted by the Department for Education. I was pleased to read an article by the Chancellor in The Observer—that wonderful Sunday newspaper—saying that the most important change this Government are making in technology is changing the information and communications technology curriculum from one in which children passively receive technology to one in which they actively learn to code.

Working with UK games industry representatives from UKIE—the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment—and TIGA, we were delighted to secure the UK games tax relief, a significant boost to the creative industries. Will the Minister provide an update on the unhelpful European Union Commission investigation?

I would never accuse the European Commission of being unhelpful. It was very quick to allow us to introduce our very important tax credits for high-end television and animation. It has concluded its consultation on video games tax relief and I expect a decision in the very near future.

2014 Winter Olympics

14. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on the 2014 winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia. (900129)

I have regular discussions with my colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on a range of issues, including the 2014 winter Olympic games in Sochi.

But what assurances has the Minister received on the safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes and spectators who hope to attend the 2014 winter Olympics?

The British Government remain greatly concerned about the growing restrictions on LGBT freedoms in Russia, and we have repeatedly raised those concerns, including at the 2013 UK-Russia human rights dialogue in May. The Prime Minister raised the issue directly with President Putin during a meeting in Downing street in June ahead of the G8 summit, and it will be raised again at the G20 this weekend.

Topical Questions

Over the summer we published our “Connectivity, Content and Consumers” paper and our consultation on media plurality, and, as the House has already heard, rural broadband roll-out continues apace. We have also celebrated one-year anniversaries of the Olympic and Paralympic games, and along with the rest of the nation we have celebrated the victories of Andy Murray, the Lions squad and the women’s and men’s cricket teams’ Ashes triumph.

May I begin by thanking my right hon. Friend for taking the time to meet Broadband for the Rural North in my constituency? How will she ensure the progress of community-led schemes such as B4RN, which is trying to bring superfast broadband to some of the most isolated parts of my constituency? How will that progress continue when B4RN has to co-exist with much larger contracts held by British Telecom and Lancashire county council?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I applaud the work I saw when I visited B4RN, particularly that of Barry Forde, who is leading the community project. I fully support community projects—they are doing incredible work—and I have asked all local authorities to do what they can to support them and in particular to publish the maps of coverage. As a result of my hon. Friend’s hard work, Lancashire country council has agreed to work with B4RN to find a way to take the project forward.

The challenges facing seaside towns are distinctive and reach across Government Departments. Last week, Labour’s document “Seaside Towns: What matters to coastal communities and economies” highlighted the fact that seaside towns are now among the most deprived areas in Britain. Given their importance to our tourism economy, what is being done to co-ordinate effort across Government to tackle the crisis facing our seaside towns and to give them the opportunity to once again flourish as thriving tourist destinations?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to pay tribute to the hard work of those who provide hotels and other attractions in our seaside towns. Our GREAT campaign features the beauty of our coastline as one of our key assets. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman’s proposed tourism tax would do anything to develop the future of our coastal towns. I urge him to reconsider it and to support our tourism industry.

T2. My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the recent report published by the all-party parliamentary group on heritage rail and of the significant contribution that the largely voluntary organisations in that area make to the UK tourism industry. I urge her to make every effort to continue to support their hard work, in particular through the support of VisitEngland. (900131)

My hon. Friend is right that heritage railways can provide a focus for tourism in local areas. The Watercress line in Hampshire provides that, as does the Severn Valley railway in his constituency. I will continue to do everything that I can to encourage VisitEngland to offer the support that is important, particularly with regard to marketing this fantastic asset of our British heritage.

T3. Users of social media sites increasingly use them to advertise the sale of sex online. The law in this area is often unclear and contradictory. Will the Department make legal guidance available to social media sites and Members of the House so that we can help to reduce demand for the vulnerable women who are often exploited in this trade? (900132)

Whatever is illegal offline is illegal online. Any activity that is undertaken by the sites that the hon. Gentleman talks about should be carefully looked at to ensure that it does nothing to harm people, particularly people under the age of 18 who might be accessing those sites.

T5. The major UK sporting event of the year will soon kick off. The rugby league world cup will comprise 14 nations and Warrington looks forward to welcoming some of them. Will the Minister confirm that that event is one of his Department’s main priorities this year and outline the support that it is providing? (900135)

I certainly shall. Of course, the world triathlon series is coming to this country before the rugby league world cup kicks off in the autumn. That event is a priority. The Government have provided all the usual support in respect of visas, security and the necessary insurances for the international body. Exceptionally, we have also provided a direct grant to the rugby world cup itself. It has been fantastically run. It is 50 days today until it kicks off and I wish it every success.

T4. Wales had a successful Olympics, which included Jade Jones from my constituency winning gold. Have Ministers seen the comments of the chair of Sport Wales, who said that the cuts to local authorities in the United Kingdom were putting the Olympic legacy at risk? Does the Minister agree? (900134)

No, I do not. Let us look at the Olympic legacy. The fact that we ran the best ever Olympic and Paralympic games has been a fantastic boon for this country. We are the first home nation ever to increase the investment in Olympic and Paralympic athletes—the investment in Paralympic athletes has increased by 43%. Participation is up by 1.4 million, an extra £150 million is going to primary schools and we have assembled the best ever list of major sporting events to come to this country. No other host nation has assembled a legacy to beat that.

T6. With the Tour de France coming through my constituency next year and the rugby league world cup game between England and Ireland being played at the John Smith’s stadium in Huddersfield on 2 November, B and Bs and hotels in my part of the world are chock-a-block with bookings. Will the Minister confirm that the Government have no plans to introduce a holiday tax, which would increase the cost of overnight stays, because that idea was recently suggested by a shadow Minister? (900136)

I can do better than that and point the finger at the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) as the guilty party. He proposed a tourism tax for London at a time when visitor numbers are up by 12% and spend by 13%. That is a fantastic legacy from 2012 and it would be folly beyond measure to kill it with the old tax-and-spend policies of the Labour party.

Last week, I had the pleasure of launching Turning Earth, a new ceramics studio that is partly funded through crowdfunding. The Financial Conduct Authority is currently consulting on the future of crowdfunding. Given its importance to the creative industries in my area and up and down the country, is the Department having a serious input into that inquiry and having discussions about what creative businesses need?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that crowdfunding is an option for the creative industries and the arts. We will certainly be involved in that consultation. We listen to representations from trade bodies such as UKIE, the video games trade body, on crowdfunding.

T7. I welcome the fact that UK broadband speeds have increased by a fifth in six months. However, what progress has the Department made in getting BT to disclose the 10% of areas that it will not cover by 2015, so that smaller providers can help plug the gap? (900139)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is important to stress that local authorities are in the driving seat in broadband roll-out. Whether to share roll-out plans is a decision for them and some are keen to manage demand. The Secretary of State has written to all local authorities and urged them to share their roll-out plans with their communities, precisely so that community broadband providers have the opportunity to plug the gaps.

The National Audit Office has told us that the rural broadband programme is already running 22 months late. It also states that

“the Department does not have strong assurance over the appropriateness of the levels of contingency”.

May I press the Minister again to ensure that adequate cost data are provided by BT before money is handed over, not least so that there is a fair opportunity for community initiatives such as the one we heard about a few minutes ago?

First, it is important to stress that the broadband programme is going extremely well. As I have said before, we should reach 88% coverage by the end of 2015 and 90% in early 2016. That is far ahead of Labour’s plan, which was only to get to superfast broadband by the end of 2017. It is also important to stress that the NAO acknowledged that the in-life controls in local authority contracts with BT were robust. We follow exactly the same procedure as that used in Cornwall, where BT has gone from 80% to 95% coverage for the same amount of money, and we have robust cost controls.

In Dover and Deal, people complain bitterly about how long it takes to get a broadband connection and how long it can take to get it sorted out if the connection goes wrong. Given that the infrastructure provider is effectively a monopoly provider, is it not important that we have a better service?

May I say what a pleasure it was to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency the other day, to see some of his historic churches and to open the Deal arts festival?

I hear what my hon. Friend says. Those questions do arise, but I know that BT Openreach works hard to ensure that it can give the best customer service possible. We have regular discussions with BT Openreach and other major providers to ensure that customer service is good.

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Maternity Leave

1. What recent consultations she has had with employers’ organisations on the treatment of women who return to work after maternity leave. (900140)

As part of the consultations on introducing shared parental leave, I have had a number of discussions with employer representative groups and employers, as well as family representative groups, about the issues surrounding women returning to work after maternity leave. Those groups have included the British Chambers of Commerce, the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the TUC and Working Families, as well as employers such as BT and Lloyds.

As someone who has three daughters, all of whom have children and have had maternity leave, and who have demanding jobs, may I tell the Minister that the Government’s record since 2010 is not good? Recent independent reports show that family incomes and women’s incomes have declined, and we still have not addressed the thing that prevents the most talented people in our country from getting back to work—the cost of child care. When will the Government tackle that?

The hon. Gentleman is right to mention the cost of child care, and the Government are well aware of the challenge that it poses for working mums and dads. That is exactly why we have announced a new tax break of £1,200 per child per year for child care costs. Just this week, we have extended the free early education entitlement to two-year-olds, and it will double next year to include the most disadvantaged 40% of two-year-olds. There is also an additional £200 million in universal credit. We recognise the important point he raises and are acting on it.

Will the Minister do everything she can to encourage employers to keep in touch with their employees during maternity leave? That would improve many of the challenges that exist.

My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. Ensuring that employers and employees stay in touch during the period of maternity leave can ease the return to work and make the process work better for everybody involved. The “keeping in touch days” that were introduced fairly recently—within the last few years—as part of maternity leave have helped in that. We are of course considering how that successful initiative can be extended further through the shared parental leave that we are introducing.

I know that the Minister will have every reason to agree with me about the importance of supporting maternity leave for working women. We wish her well. However, she will also be appalled by the figures that one in seven women on maternity leave lose their job and half return to jobs that are worse than those they left. Discrimination against someone just because they are on maternity leave is obviously illegal, but the Government have now decided that new mothers who want to take their case to an employment tribunal will have to pay £1,200 to do so. That is the equivalent of nine weeks’ maternity pay. Does she think that will make it easier or harder for new mothers budgeting for a young family to challenge maternity discrimination?

The right hon. Lady raises a variety of important points, and I thank her very much for her kind words. I agree that maternity discrimination is unacceptable—of course, it is also illegal. Any employer worth their salt would not dream of doing it, but some will. It is important that we proceed on the basis of evidence. I would be happy to look at the analysis I have requested from Slater and Gordon, which I understand did some of that research, because it does not necessarily tally with the figures that also exist which say that 84% of women return from maternity leave to the same job they had before. It is important we get to the bottom of that.

I understand the right hon. Lady’s concern on employment tribunal fees, but it is important to see the whole picture. It is not the case that most women who want to take up a case of maternity discrimination will be forced to pay such a fee. The vast majority of cases can be dealt with well outside the tribunal system. The Government’s employment law reforms have encouraged more cases to be conciliated at an early stage through ACAS. Only a tiny number of cases ultimately get to tribunal—300 went to a hearing last year. Anyone who wins their case has a good chance of having their fees paid by the employer if ordered by the tribunal. In addition, a remissions regime is in place for those who are unable to afford the fees.

There is certainly scope for a one and a half hour debate in Westminster Hall on the matter, and quite possibly for a full day in the Chamber.

Equal Pay

From October 2014, employment tribunals will be required to order an equal pay audit where an employer has broken the law on equal pay. The Government’s “Think, Act, Report” initiative promotes greater transparency on gender employment issues. More than 125 companies are now supporting the initiative, representing nearly 2 million employees.

Given that most part-time workers are women, that most low-paid jobs are part-time jobs, and that the average hourly wage for a woman doing part-time work is less than three quarters of the hourly wage of a full-time employee, will my hon. Friend the Minister use her energy and effectiveness with her team to ensure that women in part-time work get a fair deal and equal pay as soon as possible?

My right hon. Friend is right to raise the issues of part-time and full-time employment. One problem identified by, among others, the Women’s Business Council, is that there is often a shortage of senior roles available on a part-time or job-share basis. The Government are taking steps to help to improve the situation by extending the right to request flexible working to everyone, which should help to ensure that it becomes more of a cultural norm rather than an anomaly purely for parents. I take his point and we will continue to work on that.

I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) on part-time working, which makes things particularly difficult for women, but will the Minister also look at the problem of zero-hours contracts, which have a desperately difficult impact on women?

The hon. Lady will be glad to know that the Government are looking at zero-hours contracts. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, in which I am also a Minister, undertook an information-gathering exercise over the summer. We are looking closely at what can be done to prevent the abuse of zero-hours contracts where it exists.

Equality and Diversity Forum

3. How much funding the Government provided for the Equality and Diversity Forum in 2012-13; and for what reasons this money was allocated. (900143)

The Equality and Diversity Forum is an independent network of equality and human rights organisations. The Government did not fund any of its activities in 2012-13.

Is the Minister aware that some of the forum’s political activities could breach the Charity Commission’s rules on campaigning and political activity?

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. It would be absolutely unacceptable for any charity to behave in a way that breached its regulatory requirements. The Government would not accept any behaviour of that sort or condone such activity. If he remains concerned, I advise him to take the issue up with the forum, the Charity Commission or both.

The Government have cut by almost 70% the budget of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which funds the work of the EDF. What assessment have the Government made of the impact of those cuts on the EDF’s work and the work of the other bodies it supports?

Yes, there have been changes, but the EDF is still capable of doing all the activities it needs to do. The forum is a valuable component that does valuable work. I have, on occasion, been lucky enough to be invited to attend meetings and to speak at them.

Women’s Business Council

4. What activities have taken place to promote the launch of the report of the Women’s Business Council on maximising women’s contribution to future economic growth; and if she will make a statement. (900144)

Under this Government more women are in employment and in self-employment than ever before, but there is much more still to be done if we are to help women to achieve their full potential in growing our economy. We strongly welcome the recommendations of the Women’s Business Council. Across Government we are working with business to ensure that they are implemented.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The Women’s Business Council report found that 22% of the gender pay gap is caused by the low pay levels of industries and occupations in which more women work. What are the Government doing to encourage more girls to select science, technology, engineering and maths—the STEM subjects—at school and university, so that they can consider careers in engineering and ICT?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the choice of career is key in closing the gender pay gap. Choosing a career in a STEM subject will start to address this important issue that she highlights. We are funding specific programmes with the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, and with leading companies such as Atkins, to encourage girls and young women into STEM careers and to increase the number of girls taking up STEM apprenticeships. This is ongoing important work and it is right that she highlights it.

What are the Government doing to address the inequality in the employment of black and minority ethnic women? One in five black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani women are unemployed, compared with one in 14 of their white counterparts.

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the challenges that women from BME communities face. The activities we are undertaking to improve access to child care and training will play an enormous part in ensuring that these women play their full part in growing our economy.

Equality for Disabled People

Recent progress includes our cross-Government disability strategy, “Fulfilling Potential—Making it Happen”, which was published on 2 July, and the launch of our two-year Disability Confident campaign on 18 July, engaging employers and giving disabled people more opportunities in business. I am pleased to say that key measures and indicators show reduced inequalities and improvements in key outcomes.

In recent years, I have on three occasions stepped in when disabled people were on the receiving end of verbal abuse. Recent polling indicates that 17% of disabled people have had such an experience, and that 7% have been physically abused or attacked. What are the Government doing to tackle disability hate crime?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this important issue. The Government are doing a lot to enable people to understand what a disability hate crime is and to make it easier to report. We are doing a lot in this area.

In July, Ministers said that the London Paralympic games had improved attitudes to disabled people. However, a recent report from Scope says that their legacy hangs in the balance. Some 22% of disabled people say that public attitudes have got worse, and 17% say that they have experienced hostile behaviour, or even been attacked. That is not surprising when Ministers abuse statistics about disabled people and benefits. The Hardest Hit campaign shows that disabled people have been hit nine times as hard as non-disabled people by austerity cuts. Is it not time that the Minister got her Government colleagues into line? Disabled people are equal and valued participants in society. When will the Government start to deliver positive messages about the contribution they make and give them the support they need to participate in society?

What I would like to do is paint the correct picture, which the hon. Lady is not doing. I can give her either the latest international statistics, which show that out of 55 countries the UK is leading in all 23 indicators, or the latest national statistics, from 2 July, which show that the gap closed in nine out of 14 headline indicators. In 2005-06 and 2009-10, that was true of only seven categories. I can therefore tell the hon. Lady that, on the very latest statistics from 2 July this year, inequalities have reduced and equalities have increased in education, employment and social inclusion, and we also have lower rates of relative poverty. Please get the facts right.

Violence Against Women

6. What recent representations she has received from the women’s sector on tackling violence against women. (900147)

The Government regularly engage with organisations representing women’s interests, through quarterly stakeholder meetings, representation at the violence against women and girls inter-ministerial group and other ongoing meetings.

Sadly, since the election the number of incidents of domestic violence has risen, while the number of prosecutions has fallen by 11% and the number of referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service has fallen by 13%. Might that have something to do with cutting 15,000 police officers, when the Minister himself promised 3,000 more at the election?

The right hon. Gentleman neglected to mention at the end of his question that this Government have presided over a fall in crime of over 10%. We now have the lowest level of crime in this country since the independent survey began. The Government treat domestic violence extremely seriously. We are keen to see the police investigate all reports of domestic violence, and I am also pleased to tell the House that there have been record numbers of convictions for violence against women and girls over the past year.

7. Freedom of information data compiled by Labour this year revealed that up to a third of domestic incidents recorded by police are repeat incidents. In my previous profession I witnessed the same victims calling for protection time and time again. Will the Minister back Labour’s calls for new national minimum standards on preventing violence against women and girls, to ensure that opportunities to intervene and protect families are not missed? (900148)

We need to pay particular attention—and we are—to the problem of repeat offenders. That is why, for example, we have introduced the domestic violence disclosure scheme—otherwise known as Clare’s law—to try to protect women who find themselves at particular risk in those circumstances. However, we remain open, as always, to new ideas to try to reduce domestic violence.

Universal Credit

(Urgent Question): Will the Secretary of State confirm that the facts in the National Audit Office report about universal credit, set out this morning, are true?

I start by reminding the House of the importance of universal credit. Universal credit is a major and challenging reform to transform—

Order. Just before the Secretary of State develops his remarks—the exchanges will run on—I say very gently to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) that the proper form in these matters is to stick to the urgent question in the terms submitted. It is not appropriate for a Member to refine, adjust or spin the terminology of the question. We really must stick to the terms. I am not impugning the integrity of the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] No, no; I am not doing anything of the kind. What I am saying is that I think he has behaved in a mildly cheeky manner, and I hope he will not do that again.

We would never accuse the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) of being less than cheeky—or, for that matter, of ever attempting to spin anything—but I stand by your judgment, Mr Speaker: a cheeky spinner he is.

Universal credit, I remind everybody, is an important and challenging programme to provide major benefits for claimants and the country as a whole, with a clear financial set of incentives that will get an estimated 300,000 additional people into work and make 3 million claimants better off. However, all major programmes involve difficult issues and difficult decisions, week in, week out. In 2011, I added to the programme and the original schedule—as the right hon. Gentleman knows, because we saw each other and I told him about this—the need for a pathfinder, which I said would start rolling out in April.

I added that provision because I was concerned that we needed to ensure that we tested the IT throughout. By the way, I have done that for every programme—from disability living allowance to the personal independence payment, and everything else. We need to make sure that we are right, and I was concerned that the existing programme was not quite right.

In the summer of 2012—or rather, before that, in early 2012—I instigated an independent review because I was concerned that the leadership of the programme was not focusing in the way that it needed to on delivering the programme as it had been originally set out. The internal report showed me quite categorically that my concerns were right: the leadership was struggling, a culture of good news was prevailing and intervention was required. That was very much backed up by the National Audit Office.

As a result, I changed the leadership team in October 2012 and brought in the brilliant Philip Langsdale, who had successfully delivered Heathrow terminal 2. He was one of the great IT brains in the UK. He made it very clear that the programme was deliverable, and that it needed to be reset so that it could be delivered on time and on budget. When he sadly died, I went to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General and asked for David Pitchford—in the short term, while we looked for a replacement—who headed the Major Projects Authority in January. My right hon. Friend agreed to that, and the Cabinet Office helped us to put together the reset programme that had been started by Philip Langsdale.

I accepted the findings of the report absolutely in review, and have made certain that in the last few months we have been working to deliver the programme. It has been handed over to Howard Shiplee, who has now taken over. He wrote recently in The Daily Telegraph that he believed the programme was deliverable on time and on budget. The important thing about Howard Shiplee is that he is the man who delivered the Olympic park under budget and early. His clear indication is that he believes that we might do similar things here. He has made that very clear.

I should also like to remind the House that universal credit is not just succeeding but progressing. It is progressing because we have already started to roll out the pathfinders. I was in front of the Select Committee in July, when I explained that those pathfinders were already teaching us some important lessons. We are expanding those into six new jobcentres and dealing with them. Also, from October, around 100 jobcentres a month will begin using the claimant commitment with new jobseekers. That commitment will act as a contract between the jobseeker and the state. We are already seeing that this is driving people into work. Universal credit is not just about IT. It is massively about cultural change to get people back to work and to ensure that those who do go to work, particularly the poorest, benefit the most.

The NAO concludes on the programme:

“It is entirely feasible that it goes on to achieve considerable benefits to society”.

Every recommendation that the NAO has made in the report has already been made. The key lesson that I take is simply this. The previous Government crashed one IT programme after another, and no Minister ever intervened to change them early so that they delivered on time. We are not doing that. I have taken action on this particular programme. This programme will deliver on time and will deliver within budget.

Our bible, “Erskine May”, states clearly on page 201 that Ministers must give accurate and truthful information to the House,

“correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity”.

On 5 March this year, the Secretary of State told my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) that

“the implementation of universal credit…is proceeding exactly in accordance with plans.”—[Official Report, 5 March 2013; Vol. 559, c. 827.]

We now learn from the National Audit Office that the month before that statement was made, the Department began a 13-week reset programme. Four weeks earlier, the Department reduced case-load forecasts for next April by 80%. Five months before, the Department had largely stopped developing systems for national roll-out. It is inconceivable that the Secretary of State did not know about that, because the reset programme was organised by the man he personally brought into the Department. Furthermore, in a letter to me last month, the Secretary of State told me:

“I closely monitor the progress of this ground-breaking programme”.

The NAO must agree its facts with the Department. Paragraph 13 of the NAO’s report states:

“The Department is now reconsidering the timing of full rollout”,

and that plans have changed three times in four months. This morning, the National Audit Office told me that the NAO and the permanent secretary have agreed that statement, yet it flatly contradicts what the Secretary of State has said to this House. To hit his deadline at the end of 2017, he must now move more than 200,000 people a month on to the new system—the population of a city the size of Derby.

The Public Accounts Committee will no doubt consider next week the changed timetable, the IT shambles and the write-offs, the lack of counter-fraud measures, the shambolic financial control and the ineffective oversight. What I want to say to the Secretary of State, however, is this: he has let this House form a picture of universal credit, which the nation’s auditors say is wrong. The most charitable explanation is that he has lost control of the programme and lost control of the Department. He must now correct the record. He must now apologise to the House and convene cross-party talks to get this project back on track. The quiet man must not become the cover-up man.

I must say that that was suitably pathetic, coming from the right hon. Gentleman. He knows very well—he has been in to see me on a number of occasions; I would like to say what he said, but it was unmemorable in every single case—that the reality is that this programme, as I said at the beginning, will be delivered in time and in budget. There is no major change to that. What I have done, and I did early on, is something that the right hon. Gentleman never did and Labour has never done. When I got concerned about the delivery schedule, I made changes and intervened, bringing in the right people to do that. I stand by that, and I will not take lessons from the right hon. Gentleman and his party. Let me just remind them of what happened when they were in office.

The benefit processing replacement programme was scrapped at a cost of £140 million, and no one apologised. The Child Support Agency wasted £500 million before the programme was scrapped—no Minister intervened; no Minister changed it. The Labour Government wasted £3 billion on benefit overpayments. The tax credit system was delivered at one go on one day and it collapsed, costing billions, with £30 billion lost in fraud. The programme that delivered the health service IT changes cost £13 billion when it was cancelled with no apologies.

The lesson that I have learned and that we Government Members learn, in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, is that we check these programmes while they are progressing and if changes need to be made, we make them. In making those changes, I stand by the fact that the purpose is to deliver this programme—on time and on budget, which is something that the Opposition never did in the whole of their time in government.

Does my right hon. Friend not feel that every time Labour Members snipe at him they simply show that they are not serious about welfare reform? Does the National Audit Office report not show that universal credit can substantially benefit society and, indeed, can benefit society by some £38 billion by 2022-23?

The reality is that this NAO report is very clear about the benefits and very clear that if we get the resets right—it gave us a list of them—and every one of those items has been done, it will save £38 billion. More than that, it will help improve the lives of the least well-off as they are delivered back into work. We should remember that I inherited from the previous Labour Government a chaotic system costing billions—and we are putting it right.

Like many Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions, I looked at something like universal credit some 12 years ago, and I was advised then that it was technically very difficult, if not impossible, to implement it at anything like an acceptable cost and that whatever the cost I was quoted, it was likely that it would end up costing an awful lot more. I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman this morning claiming that this project is on track and on budget, which I find extraordinary when the NAO says that it is anything but that. I have also listened to him blaming all those around him for letting him down, so will he tell us what advice he received when he gave this the go-ahead in 2010?

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman, whom I usually respect—and he may recall that we were facing each other across the Dispatch Box at the time when he was looking into the matter—that the advice I received then made it absolutely clear that universal credit could be delivered and a timetable could be set in the Department. I take full responsibility for the delivery of universal credit, and I will not shirk that responsibility. I intend to deliver it on budget and on time.

The NAO is an historical report. It relates to the period during which I was making the changes. Those changes have now been made, and all the outside advisers and experts believe that universal credit is deliverable. The right hon. Gentleman’s party has said that it supports universal credit, and I was happy to receive that support, but Opposition Members have continually voted against it and carped about it. I think that it would be far better for him to ensure that they stay the course.

Will not 3.1 million people, including many in Brighton and many on the lowest incomes, be better off and receive a higher entitlement under universal credit?

That is absolutely true. That is why this programme is worth seeing through, and why having the nerve and decisiveness to see it through is so important. Of course there were difficulties—I do not shy away from that—but the changes that have been made by my Department, the Cabinet Office and external parties will deliver the system on time in order to benefit the very people to whom my hon. Friend has referred, while the Opposition carp and forget their own history.

I am very disappointed by the bullish way in which the Secretary of State has behaved this morning. I believe that it was the same attitude that dismissed the voices of members of my Select Committee and those of many others who suggested that the implementation of universal credit was not going as well as was being claimed. From now on, will the Secretary of State set realistic time scales for the roll-out of universal credit, will he be honest, open and transparent about the challenges posed by the introduction of such a large and complex system, and will he stop over-promising what cannot be delivered?

When I appeared before the hon. Lady’s Committee in July, I was very clear about the changes that were being made, and also about the fact that we would return to the Committee with the full roll-out timetable in the autumn once we had delivered it. That is what we were asked to do, and I will do it.

I am not being over-bullish about this. The fact is that it takes determination to drive a reform through. I have that determination, and the Department is determined to make this happen, with support and help. It is in all our interests for that to be done. We believe all those who have been charged to deliver it and who say that it can and will be delivered on time and on budget. I see no reason why that should not happen, and indeed the National Audit Office said that it was wholly feasible for it to happen.

The previous benefits system was confusing and unfair. Given that the Government are committed to resolving that problem, will my right hon. Friend tell us when a million people will be covered by the new universal credit system? That is what we should be aiming for, as a first step.

All I can say is “at the earliest”, but we want to shift as many people as possible. I would rather think in terms of how quickly we can move people from tax credit and jobseeker’s allowance to universal credit, and I hope that that will happen well before the election. I expect big volumes to be running through, but we need to take our time in order to ensure that when we roll out the IT, it works properly.

I have made the changes that I have made in order to ensure that the system is delivered safely. I could have just let it run. I could have accepted the word of some people that it would be all right on the night. However, I did not. I took the job of making sure that we knew whether it was all right, and I have made the changes that are necessary for the delivery of the programme.

What is the Secretary of State’s estimate of the number of people who will be on universal credit by the time of the next general election?

I will not give that estimate now, because I intend to make a clear statement in the autumn about how and when we will roll this out. All I can tell the hon. Lady is that there will be significant volumes, and that I intend to close down jobseeker’s allowance and tax credit well before the election.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Public Administration Committee will produce an important report tomorrow about civil service reform? It comes as no surprise that the Comptroller and Auditor General has said that his programme lacked “an appropriate management approach”, adding:

“Instead, the programme suffered from weak management, ineffective control and poor governance.”

These are problems that afflict all Departments, and have done so for many years under the last Government as well as this one. Will my right hon. Friend support the civil service reform so determinedly championed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr Maude), to ensure that we secure the change in Whitehall that we need?

First, let me say that I am a complete supporter of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General on the civil service reform plan, and I have been from day one. The truth is that if the Opposition were in thinking mode they would have agreed with that as well. The reality is that today’s NAO report shows there were problems in the running of this programme. I intervened when I discovered that and changed it, but I never expected to have to do that. When I arrived, I expected the professionalism to be able to do this properly. So my view is that I have intervened in the right way. All the other programmes of IT change are working and are well run—and they are well run by the Department. This one was not. We have made the changes necessary.

The Secretary of State does, however, still need to explain why he came to this House in March and said the programme was proceeding according to plan when, in fact, he knew at that point that a month previously he had had to rip up those plans and reset the whole programme. Why did he do that? Why did he not give a more candid account to Parliament in March?

The plan is, and has always been, to deliver this programme within the four-year schedule to 2017. At the time I came to the House, I believed that to be the case, and I am standing here today telling the House—whether Opposition Members like it or not—that that is exactly what the plan is today. We will deliver this in time and in budget, and I have to say the changes were made deliberately to ensure that.

May I invite my right hon. Friend to welcome the shadow Secretary of State’s conversion to caring about the use of taxpayers’ money, and in doing so would he like to remind the House of how many of the Government’s welfare cuts and changes the right hon. Gentleman has opposed? May I also urge my right hon. Friend to adopt the cross-party talks the shadow Secretary of State urges, because whatever advice he gives, my right hon. Friend will know to proceed in exactly the opposite direction?

I am always willing to see the shadow Secretary of State; he has been in three or four times, and I will be very happy to see him again if he wishes. Honestly, however, my hon. Friend is right: the Opposition have opposed every single welfare change. We will be saving £80 billion as a result of our welfare reforms, and we have already, last week, seen the lowest number of households without work since the last Government were in power. We have seen fewer people economically inactive, and we have seen a fall of over 300,000 in the number of those out of work or economically inactive.

I had a conversation with the late Philip Langsdale before he took up his post, and I must say I had the most profound respect for the man. He took over the post because of previous project management failures. May I remind the Secretary of State that it was he who signed off the contract that led to those project management failures? Rather than simply blaming civil servants—although I agree with the Chair of the Public Administration Committee about the need for change—why does the Secretary of State not accept the blame himself?

I am not blaming civil servants—[Interruption.] No: I made decisions that led to the removal of some of those who were charged with the responsibility of delivering this. Today’s NAO report is very clear that the culture of secrecy and of good news did not help run those departments. That does not run all the way through every programme. We are delivering DLA PIP and that programme has been modified and changed because they have brought forward all the concerns. It is the same with the CMEC CSA changes and the cap changes. All of those IT programmes have been dealt with in my office in conjunction with them in the proper way. This one was not. I am simply saying that Philip Langsdale—the hon. Gentleman is right that he was a brilliant man—said to me at the beginning that this one did not tell the truth.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that all this debate about the minutiae of a complex transformation and simplification of what, by any measure, is a very complicated benefits system, risks losing sight of the bigger picture, which is that universal credit will mean that work always pays, and that whatever the costs of developing the system, they will be a small fraction of the billions of pounds that will be saved in the long run?

My hon. Friend is right about that. I remind the House that under the previous Government, in the six years preceding the election, tax credits cost £180 billion-plus because of the shambles and the mess they were in. They lost huge sums through tax fraud and evasion, and we are putting that right. Our welfare reforms, including universal credit—all opposed by the Opposition—will change it, and they are already having an effect. Not one of our reforms has been supported by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), who has carped and voted against every single one.

One of the most damning criticisms in the National Audit Office report relates to the lack of a proper fraud detection system as part of universal credit. When Lord Freud, the Minister with responsibility for welfare reform, came before the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government earlier this year, he said that a new fraud detection system would be put in place. Why did the Secretary of State allow this programme to run for so long without an adequate fraud detection system being part of it?

That is exactly one of the reasons why we intervened back in 2012—the system they were trying to integrate was not going to work correctly. That was already evident by the end of 2011 and early 2012. The problems were such that when I introduced the independent inquiry, it told me categorically that this was not going to work, so we have changed it and reset it. In conjunction with the Cabinet Office, we have seen that there is a better way to do this, and we believe that the integrated fraud programme will deliver results in the new roll-out.

When the Select Committee visited the north-west we saw universal credit working, albeit in a limited manner, and being well received by the staff working with it. It was having a positive impact on the claimants they were working with. Surely, however, it is right not to roll out this programme so fast and risk millions of people not getting the benefit that they are expecting to get. So may I urge the Secretary of State to say to the House that he will not rush this and that he will get it right before it is rolled out to more people?

I agree, and I must say what the problem has been throughout all this. When I introduced the pathfinder, which said that there would a delay in the way we rolled this out, Labour criticised us for delaying the roll-out. Then, later on, it criticised us for not doing it properly. The reality is that we are doing this properly. We will not do it against artificial timetables, but it will be done in the overall four-year timetable and it will be effective.

The Secretary of State has told us today that he had serious concerns in the summer of 2012. He also told us that he then changed the leadership in October 2012. Does he recall what he said to this House in September 2012? He said:

“For what it is worth, I take absolute, direct and close interest in every single part of the IT development. I hold meetings every week and a full meeting every two weeks, and every weekend a full summary of the IT developments and everything to do with policy work is in my box and I am reading it. I take full responsibility and I believe that we are taking the right approach.”—[Official Report, 11 September 2012; Vol. 550, c. 154.]

Culture of secrecy and good news, or what?

I do not resile from any of what I said; that is exactly the way in which we have tried to manage it. But of course, someone is only as good as the information given to them. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that by September 2012 I had already started the reset process and brought in Philip Langsdale. He was coming into the office and we were going to make those changes. The reality is that this will be delivered on time and on budget. That was my view then and it is my view today. The key thing is that those charged with the responsibility of doing that have the skill to do it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his transformative scheme has enormous public support, as it will revolutionise dependency by reducing it in this country? Does he note, as I do, that in office the socialist Opposition swallowed any number of camels and are now straining at a gnat?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said earlier, the Labour party has opposed every single reform since we came into government. Those reforms are set to save some £80 billion, and universal credit is part of that. At no stage have the Opposition told us what they would do instead. When they said that they would support universal credit, they voted against it. This is a party in opposition that is so opportunistic that it catches itself in the morning disagreeing with itself in the evening.

Since the Secretary of State took personal responsibility for this failure, we have seen a delay in the time scale for the universal roll-out of universal credit, a reduction in the number of pathfinder programmes, which has gone way down, and claimants being reduced to the simplest to pass through the system. When he gives us the time and the budget, as he undoubtedly will again, could they at least be accurate? I say to him that when it comes to spinning it takes one to know one—but his spinning will not create humour in the country. It could be catastrophic for benefits claimants.

The hon. Lady, not for the first time, is completely wrong. The pathfinder was exactly as we set it down. It was always going to deal with single people at the beginning and we have rolled it out as we said we would. I stand by the fact that this pathfinder is the right thing to do. I introduced it back in 2011 and it will help us enormously to develop the IT. That is the way we are doing it and that is the way we will do it.

Having visited the pathfinders with the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, I can reassure my right hon. Friend that both the claimants and the front-line staff were enthusiastic about universal credit and how it is working. Is my right hon. Friend also aware that the Select Committee commented that the Government are making significant progress in making work pay?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. All our reforms—reducing the workless numbers and ensuring that the economically inactive are going back to work, saving money for the Exchequer and for taxpayers—are in play. Every one has been opposed by the Opposition and we have had no answer about what they would do instead. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General has said, they dance around on all the issues and the truth is that they have no policy. The welfare party is bankrupt.

Under the section of the report containing the key findings, paragraph 18 states:

“Throughout the programme, the Department has lacked a detailed view of how Universal Credit is meant to work.”

Will the Secretary of State explain how that happened? Does it not show that he lost control of the project from the very beginning?

The original plan to have an “Agile” process meant that by 2011 the plan would be formulated and could be delivered against. In 2011, I was concerned about the failure to deliver—that was meant to be part of the process—and that is why I instituted the changes in 2012. We will have that plan ready. It will be announced to Parliament, it will be stuck to and it will deliver in time and on budget, so the NAO is right and I fully agree with it.

We understand that the aim is to give support to the right people at the right time in the right way and to help make their lives better. Will my right hon. Friend remind us of the additional benefits of the reduction in administrative costs and in fraud and error?

The costs overall and the savings are enormous. The total benefits to individuals and in fraud and error will total up to perhaps £38 billion. The point is that those savings are real savings. Yes, there is a problem about some wasted money in this programme that is quite unacceptable, but set against the big savings the key point is that it is a big and important programme.

The use of real-time information is critical to rolling out universal credit across the country and ensuring that it works properly, so will the Secretary of State confirm that the RTI project is on time and on budget at HMRC?

The good thing about the pathfinder is that it has allowed us to test the RTI system. The hon. Lady will find, if she wants to visit any of the sites, that we are getting a phenomenally good feed from the RTI about the payroll. In some areas, they have already discovered that some people claiming jobseeker’s allowance are earning a salary at the same time. They have been able to deal with that, hugely due to the fact that the RTI system is working. I recall that many Opposition Members said that the RTI software would not work, but they were wrong.

Why was this urgent question called when the Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, is investigating this clearly outdated, historic report next Wednesday?

Order. I am afraid that that is not a question for the Secretary of State. I decide whether an urgent question should be granted or not. I am fully conscious of what other parts of the House are doing and the judgment I have to make is whether the matter should be aired on the Floor of the House today. The answer is yes. That, to be honest, is the end of the matter.

I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend say that he thought that the cultural change afforded by the introduction of universal credit was even more important than the financial savings that it will offer. In my part of the world in the black country, we have a higher than average rate of workless households. Will he talk to his officials about ensuring that some of the pathfinder pilots that he has in mind take place in the black country?

I thank my hon. Friend for her support and I will ensure that she gets the earliest possible roll-out.

As the Secretary of State considers the operation of universal credit, will he look at the effect on people living in areas with high private sector rental costs who find that a wholly disproportionate amount of their benefit goes on such rents, rather than keeping body and soul together? We need not only to look at that, but to control private sector rents.

I believe that universal credit will help in that regard because the idea is that, as people go back to work, they will be better off for every hour they work than they were on benefits, which should make them more able to afford to live. The vast majority of benefits under universal credit will go to the bottom 20% of earners, so it should be a net benefit to the poorest in society.

May I urge my right hon. Friend to reject the shadow Secretary of State’s offer of cross-party talks, not only because of Labour’s failure on IT, benefit fraud and the tax credits system, but because Labour Members fundamentally do not believe in the welfare reform that this country desperately needs?

I will not reject the offer of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) because I am an optimist. On the road to Damascus, there is always a chance that such an individual may change his view and realise that what we are doing is the right thing. I will do my level best to persuade him that everything that he has done so far is wrong and that there is a better way—marked “coalition”.

The Secretary of State’s problem is that we have been here before. We were told on every occasion that everything was fine and that “Agile” programming—whatever that is—would solve all the IT problems, but now we find that “Agile” was all wrong. The problem for the Secretary of State is that he still wants to deliver this by 2017, despite the fact that he is already way behind his original timetable for delivery by then. If he accepts that there are all these problems and statements such as it is

“unlikely that Universal Credit will be…simple or cheap to administer”,

would it not be better to delay the final implementation date?

The hon. Lady is right and I agree that we have been here before: the national health IT collapse costing £13 billion; the Child Support Agency failure and £120 million crash programme; and a £7.1 billion IT project that failed. The difference is that, unlike those programmes under the Labour Government, I acted to ensure that changes were made early to deliver the programme on time and on budget.

Order. I appreciate that there is much interest, but 25 Members have questioned the Secretary of State and we must move on—[Hon. Members: “Aw.”] The House is used to a situation in which virtually everyone gets in, because that is the way I like to play it—I must say, especially to new Members, that it did not use to be like that at all—and it usually is that way, but I have to make a judgment about the time available, and we have the business question, a statement on legal aid and debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee to follow. These matters can be rehearsed again in the future—and doubtless they will be.

Business of the House

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 9 September—My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will propose an humble address and message on the occasion of the birth of His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge. I expect my right hon. Friend to update the House following the G20, followed by consideration in Committee of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill (day 1).

Tuesday 10 September—Consideration in Committee of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill (day 2).

Wednesday 11 September—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Thursday 12 September—General debate on child protection in the UK, followed by general debate on employment rights.

The subjects for both debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 13 September—Private Members’ Bills.

The business for the week commencing 7 October will include:

Monday 7 October—The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 8 October—Remaining stages of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill (day 1).

Colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 2.30 pm on this day.

Wednesday 9 October—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.

Thursday 10 October—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.

A report from the Resolution Foundation yesterday showed that one in five workers is paid less than the living wage, a rise of nearly 1.5 million in three years. We now know that the Government’s economic policies have meant that people are £28 a week worse off than they were in 2010, and for all but one month since the election prices have risen faster than wages. It is not a recovery if it leaves everyone but those at the top behind, and the public are not buying it either. Polling shows that 70% of people believe that recent improvements in the economy have not benefited middle and lower income families, and 81% believe that politicians who say that household incomes have grown faster than price rises are “out of touch”. I could not have put it better myself. This is an out-of-touch Government, complacent on living standards, building an economy that works only for their rich millionaire friends. So may we have an update from the Chancellor about this week’s understanding of his favourite phrase, “We are all in this together”?

The lobbying Bill that we have been discussing this week shows us that instead of getting the big money out of politics, the Government would rather put a gag on campaigners while protecting Lynton Crosby. But that is not surprising when with this Government money seems to buy influence. Hedge funds gave the Conservatives £32 million and then got a massive tax cut, and then there was the tax cut for millionaires. In spite of all this, I was still surprised to see Boris Johnson say this week that he would change his name to “Barclays” in return for £100 million in sponsorship. How long will it be before we see the Cabinet touting for sponsorship too?

We have been back only a few days and it is already back to normal for this Government. We have had a rebellion, chaos in the Whips Office and abject incompetence, and we have had our first U-turn this morning with the dropped plans on legal aid price competition. Where there is chaos there is waste. We have already had the pointless top-down reorganisation of the NHS at a cost of £1.5 billion. This week we have discovered that they have squandered £74 million forgetting to add VAT on the troubled aircraft carrier programme. Today, the sheer scale of the failure at the heart of the Secretary of State for Work and Pension’s flagship universal credit programme became clear. The National Audit Office report says that the scheme has been beset by

“weak management, ineffective control and poor governance”.

We have also learned that £34 million has been wasted on IT and they have spent £300 million on a computer that they do not know what to do with. The NAO blames a fortress mentality where only good news is released. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on this fortress mentality and the impact it may be having on the ability of the civil service to operate effectively in the culture that this Government have created?

Next week, we have the Committee stage of the comically named Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, which had its Second Reading on Tuesday. The Opposition are committed to cleaning up lobbying, getting big money out of politics and keeping dodgy donors out of Downing street, but the Bill achieves none of this. The Leader of the House got a very rough ride, including from three Select Committees and his own Back Benchers, for this rushed, incompetently drafted and sinister mess of a Bill. He has already tabled 23 amendments and there will be a lot more, I am sure, before we have finished. This Bill has united the lobbying industry and transparency campaigners, who agree that it will make lobbying less transparent, not more. The Electoral Commission, hundreds of charities, campaigners and many thousands of members of the public are fighting the Government’s sinister gag on free speech in the run-up to a general election.

It seems that the Bill’s only success has been to create a huge coalition against it, so wide that it includes the TaxPayers Alliance, the Royal British Legion, HOPE not hate and 38 Degrees. Yesterday the Prime Minister accused the trade unions of mounting a concerted lobbying campaign against the Bill, but he omitted to mention that Con. Home is against it, too.

The Leader of the House does not seem to have learnt many lessons from his last disastrous attempt at a Bill, the Health and Social Care Act 2012, but I would like to ask him to learn just one: he needs to pause, listen, reflect and improve. Why not start by listening to the important report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, published today? He should scrap the timetable he has just announced for Committee stage and arrange some much-needed pre-legislative scrutiny. Even better, why does he not just go back to the drawing board?

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her further questions. On the transparency Bill, she is just trying to rerun the debate we had on Tuesday. All the points she has made were presented in that debate and she lost. The Bill secured a Second Reading and, in particular, the support of the House against the Opposition’s reasoned amendment, which specifically sought a delay.

As I made clear on Second Reading, we will look at some of the concerns that have been raised, but I re-emphasise this point: many of the representations that are being made are based on a complete misunderstanding and a misrepresentation, which is that some change is taking place in the definition of what constitutes expenditure for electoral purposes, as distinct from campaigning on policies and issues. Charities will continue to be able to campaign as vigorously as they wish in putting forward their policies, and if any organisations were to step over the line and try to secure the election of a party or a candidate, that should be treated as election expenditure. That was the case in the past and will be the case in future. If there is any way we can make that even clearer, we will set out to do so.

I am surprised that the hon. Lady did not take the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition to the letter I sent him before the recess making it clear that the Bill was available for the Labour party to put forward proposals to give trade union members a deliberate choice on their participation in political funds, which he said they should have. Only yesterday we saw Paul Kenny of the GMB clearly trying to push him off his proposals. If he wants to entrench them, he should come forward next week—he still has time to do so—and table amendments to the Bill so that that can be legislated for and he can show his determination. If he does not do so, we will know that he is not serious about doing it at all.

The hon. Lady asked about the urgent question earlier today, trying to rerun points that I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with very well. Let me say one thing, and I say it from personal experience: he is doing absolutely the right thing to ensure that we deliver the programme on universal credit. It is vital that we do so in order to make work pay and to get the incentives in the welfare system right, which the Labour party failed to do. Stepping into a programme to make changes in order to deliver it on time and on budget is the right thing to do, unlike what Labour did with the NHS IT programme, which was to go into denial about all the problems. When my colleagues and I came into office after the general election we found a broken programme that we had to scrap, but in the process we saved over £2 billion, which enabled my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health last week to announce a major programme for supporting hospitals and the NHS to improve their technology themselves. That is what we should be doing; we should have workable programmes, not top-down, broken ones. [Interruption.] Talking about the National Audit Office, it has said that delivering the NHS reorganisation programme on time is a major achievement and that it is delivering the planned savings: £5.5 billion from the reform programme itself over the course of this Parliament and £1.5 billion every year thereafter.

The hon. Lady asked one thing about business, regarding an update from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am happy to remind her that he will be at the Dispatch Box on Tuesday to answer questions. I am looking forward to him being able further to remind the House, as the Prime Minister did yesterday, of the events of the summer in relation to the economy, which the hon. Lady did not mention and her leader did not mention at Prime Minister’s Questions. The reason they did not is that the Chancellor will be able to refer to figures showing that employment is up, exports are up, confidence is up, manufacturing is up, services are up, construction is up, housing starts are up, and growth is up. The hon. Lady knows that, as a consequence, the Labour party is going down.

All parliamentarians in this House will have welcomed the Prime Minister’s courageous decision to recall Parliament last week to have a debate and a vote on Syria before military action could take place. He is really putting Parliament first. Can the Leader of the House confirm that if such circumstances occur in future the Prime Minister will again put a motion before this House before military action takes place?

The Prime Minister and I have been very clear at the Dispatch Box that we will respect the right of Parliament, as the source of authority, to express a view in relation to the use of military force in any substantial way, save that, as the Prime Minister has rightly made clear, in any emergency or on issues that are urgent or a matter of the defence of the national interest and the security of this country, he must have the righ