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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): I have had a number of meetings since taking over responsibility for the jubilee celebrations. My officials are in contact with the palace on a daily basis.
Mr. Hall: May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the international fun in athletics team event on 5 July in the millennium stadium in Cardiff, organised by UK Athletics under the leadership of my good friend, George Bunner? It will bring teams from the UK and South Africa together in a decathlon event that will have worldwide coverage and be a great way of celebrating the Queen's golden jubilee. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it will be a great vehicle to export the idea of the jubilee across the Commonwealth?
Tessa Jowell: That is but one opportunity, and it chimes well with the themes of the jubilee that the Queen has set and that are very much shaping the planning of events over the jubilee weekend and throughout the rest of the year.
Mr. A. J. Beith (representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission): The commission has been working closely with the Government's children and young people's unit on the "Y vote, Y not?" project, which is consulting young people about measures to encourage increased participation in elections. One suggestion is to reduce the minimum voting age. The commission has told the Government that it intends in due course to reconsider that as part of its programme of reviewing electoral law and practice.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Will the right hon. Gentleman take in one of those views now? Although it is absolutely correct to encourage young people to take an interest and participate in voting, many people feel that it would not be sensible to reduce the minimum voting age.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): Although there is no general exemption in the Sex Discrimination Act for the Church of England, the Act contains a limited exemption for cases where that is necessary to comply with a religious body's doctrines or to avoid offending the religious susceptibilities of a significant number of its members.
Mr. Edwards: My hon. Friend will appreciate that in Wales the ordination of women happened even later than in England. Does he agree that if the Church is to be relevant to modern society, women and men should have access to all jobs regardless?
Mr. Bell: The national Church institutions have a comprehensive equal opportunities policy that applies to all their employees and a rolling programme of diversity awareness training for staff. As regards the ordination of women priests, the Church aims to follow best practice in so far as the provisions of employment law apply.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): Parishes can draw upon the advice of the Council for the Care of Churches but need no encouragement, if money can be found, to maintain or repair our nation's churches, the general condition of which are a credit to the work that they carry out.
Mr. Mitchell: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but does he accept that the problem rests principally on rural churches, where there are particularly sparse congregations, and on some of our great inner-city churches, where the local congregations are not as wealthy as in other areas? Will he reflect, with me, on the joy and pleasure in the royal town of Sutton Coldfield that our town church, which needed to raise £70,000 for roof repairs, has been successful in raising that money by various means, not least the generosity and good sense of my constituents?
Mr. Bell: The hon. Gentleman makes a pertinent point. Demographic changes mean that there are churches where there is no population. A diminution in traditional building skills means that simple works cost disproportionately more than in the past. We welcome his statement about his church in Sutton Coldfield. He is right: by virtue of huge voluntary fund-raising efforts by churchgoers, friends associations, local communities and others, and to a lesser extent the welcome support of the state, such costs are being met in the manner to which he referred.
Mr. Prentice: Is there an obligation on the tenants of Church land to report accidents to the Church Commissioners and if not, why not? Is not it about time that the Church of England showed some moral leadership on the issue and banned hunting with dogs on its land? Finally
Any accidents on Church land would be referred to the Church Commissioners. In relation to foxhunting on Church land, existing tenancies may not be altered unilaterally but it may be possible to make provisions in
Mr. Bell: The position of the Church Commissioners is that our long-standing policy on foxhunting is to allow our tenants to follow their consciences in deciding whether to allow hunts on the land that we entrust to their care.
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): A number of clergy support hunting. Does my hon. Friend think it strange that so-called men of God should take pleasure from seeing one of God's creatures ripped to pieces for their fun?
Mr. A. J. Beith (representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission): Consideration of the use of financial or other individual incentives to encourage voter participation is not currently part of the commission's planned review programme. However, I understand that the commission gave evidence to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions earlier this year on a proposal from Blackburn with Darwen council for a pilot scheme linked to the May 2002 local elections that would have involved entering all electors in a prize draw. The commission concluded that the proposed scheme did not fall within the legal framework for electoral pilot schemes set out in the Representation of the People Act 2000.
Kevin Brennan: Rather than considering ideas such as compulsory voting, would not it be better to offer incentives for people to vote? Perhaps we could have a good citizens tax credit or a free lottery ticketas in the suggestion described by the right hon. Gentlemanon the basis that, for citizenship, the carrot would be better than the stick.
Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view but I believe that such proposals would face many legal and some ethical obstacles. Several other pieces of legislation might bear on them. As I said, the Electoral Commission has no current plans to conduct a review on the feasibility of introducing such proposals, but is considering a wide range of initiatives to encourage voter participation and to make the process of voting more accessible and user-friendly.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, for those for whom financial incentives are beyond the pale, a cheapindeed, freeincentive would be to allow voters to vote at any polling station? In this age of modern technology, it must be possible for lists to be available at any polling station. Would the commission look into that?