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Mr. Burns: To ask the Prime Minister (1) how many letters he received from right hon. and hon. Members between 20 June and 20 July; 
The Prime Minister: The information is not available in the manner requested. Between 20 June and 20 July 2001 I received approximately 250 letters from Members of Parliament including invitations and requests concerning constituency matters which were dealt with as appropriate.
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I receive about 500,000 items of post per year, and my office works hard to deal with them as efficiently as possible.
Mr. Burstow: To ask the Prime Minister when he expects the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals to put forward its recommendations in respect of general service medals for those who served during the Suez canal emergency 195154. 
The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the answer that I gave the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) on 29 November 2001, Official Report, column 1057W.
Norman Baker: To ask the Prime Minister (1) if he will make a statement on the circumstances in which the Intelligence Services Commissioner could uphold a complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal; 
The Prime Minister [holding answer 27 November 2001]: The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 ensures that there is independent judicial oversight of the powers in the Act. The Act requires the Interception of Communications and Intelligence Services Commissioners to report annually to the Prime Minister on any matters relating to the carrying out of their functions. These reports, excluding, after consultation with the Commissioners, confidential material, are laid before Parliament. Similarly, the Police Act 1997 requires the Chief Surveillance Commissioner to make an annual report to the Prime Minister which is laid before Parliament.
The Act also requires the Secretary of State to issue codes of practice relating to the performance of the powers and duties under this Act and to which users of the powers must have regard.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal investigates complaints in relation to any proceedings incompatible with rights conferred by the ECHR and which concern the use of investigatory powers under the Act. It also considers any complaint by a person who believes that he has been subject to any use of these investigatory powers. The tribunal would determine whether the complainant was subject to such powers and, if so, whether their use was in contravention of the provisions in the Act. The Intelligence Services Commissioner's role in this respect is to provide assistance but only as required by the tribunal.
Mr. Davidson: To ask the Prime Minister what recent discussions he has had with the US President on the US blockade of Cuba. 
The Prime Minister: I have not recently discussed the US blockade of Cuba with the US President.
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38. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, if he will increase stipends to take account of the additional costs to the clergy of going on-line. 
Mr. Bell: Any additional costs relating to the use of computer and e-mail equipment in the course of clergy duties should be reimbursed through expenses.
39. Caroline Flint: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, what resources have been provided to assist the development of child care provision in communities in the past 12 months. 
Mr. Bell: None. The Commissioners' primary legal responsibility is the financial support of the parish ministry of the Church of England.
40. David Taylor: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, what recent discussions he has had with Church leaders in relation to the vulnerability of churches to vandalism. 
Mr. Bell: I have had no discussions with Church leaders on this matter as it lies outside the Church Commissioners' and my own area of responsibility.
In the Church of England, the responsibility for the security of churches and churchyards lies with the individual parish authorities, although the care of individual monuments in churchyards is generally a matter for the family concerned. Advice is available from church insurers, Diocesan Advisory Committees for the Care of Churches and, nationally, from the Council for the Care of Churches. The National Churchwatch scheme also offers seminars on security in churches and the personal safety of those using them.
The view of both the Church authorities and insurers is that the best safeguard for a church against theft and vandalism is for it to be kept open and in regular use. However, the duty to care for and protect our churches should not solely concern the church authorities but the whole community. Realistic prevention lies in good citizenship not taller walls.
41. Mr. Drew: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, if he will make a statement on levels of poverty among clergy with particular reference to those clergy who are (a) retired and (b) about to retire. 
Mr. Bell: Clergy in office are provided with a house and paid a stipend. On retirement, a full service pension from the Church for 37 years' service amounts to two thirds of the National Minimum Stipend and a lump sum of three times the pension. Clergy are responsible for their
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own housing in retirement but are given assistance through a retirement housing scheme. Clergy also receive a state pension.
The Clergy Stipends Review Group has recently published a report "Generosity and Sacrifice", which looked at the issue of stipends and pensions. The Group noted that if stipends levels are no better than adequate, the current quantum of pension is not over generous in relation to stipends or in absolute terms. It felt, however, that a number of details of the provision of the pension and stipend scheme were in need of reconsideration. The General Synod at its November sessions agreed that the report should be sent to dioceses for consultation. The responses to that consultation are likely to be considered by General Synod at the end of next year.
42. Miss McIntosh: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, what recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor on the reduction of VAT on church repairs. 
Mr. Bell: I have not discussed the matter further with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor recently because we are waiting for the imminent announcement by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport of the details of the VAT reimbursement scheme and how it will operate. The Church has a number of concerns about the funding of the scheme which have yet to be clarified and we will be studying the details of the scheme very closely once these are published.
Ms Walley: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, what guidance has been issued in respect of value added tax concessions and listed church buildings. 
Mr. Bell: The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will, I understand, shortly announce the details of the Listed Places of Worship Grants Scheme. The Church of England and other faith groups represented by the Churches Main Committee look forward to the implementation of the Scheme and will want to study the criteria and other aspects of the Scheme following publication.
Norman Baker: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, how much is being spent on the refurbishment of the Bishop of Chichester's palace; for what reason rooms hitherto publicly accessible in the palace are being converted into private rooms; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Bell: The refurbishment is in fact on-going works, which are partly alterations and partly maintenance and redecoration.
The alterations are due to the need to improve the office accommodation. This has been re-located from the first floor to a more accessible site on the ground floor and there are consequential changes flowing from that move. The cost of these alterations is approximately £65,000.
It should be noted that Bishop Kemp's episcopacy lasted 27 years and was unusually long. This resulted in a large number of maintenance and redecoration items
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being deferred to this scheme of works. The total maintenance cost will be approximately £40,000 and this will cover general maintenance, decorations and safety related items such as upgrading the electrical installation.
VAT will be additional, although it will not apply to the alterations as the building is listed. The house is a Grade 1 listed building and the quality of work needs to reflect the special status of the building.
The question also refers to publicly accessible rooms. Bishop Kemp did not use the Tudor room and so it was used occasionally for external functions; for example, an art exhibition was held there once a year. The Tudor room is to resume its original function as the main room for receiving visitors but it will continue to be available to the public by appointment. It is envisaged that the room will also be available for seminars.
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