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Free Television Licences

11. Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): How many families in the Wakefield district area are benefiting from the introduction of free television licences for households with a member aged 75 years and over; and if she will make a statement. [68968]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): TV Licensing, which administers the free television licence scheme for the BBC as licensing authority, is not able to provide precise geographical breakdowns of the number of free licences issued. However, estimates based on the 1991 census indicate that there were approximately 20,400 people aged 75 or over living in the Wakefield metropolitan district council area.

Mr. O'Brien: Obviously, the figures show something that we should concentrate on in future, but I should point out how welcome the free television licence is to the over-75s. Given that the Government's policy is to encourage more disabled and elderly people to be retained in, and to receive treatment in, their own homes, will my hon. Friend support the campaign to offer the television licence concession to those aged 70; and will he ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the representatives of other Departments whether that concession could be thus extended? Because of the Government's policy of withdrawing care beds, such people will have to remain in their own homes, and we need to look after their interests.

Dr. Howells: I am sure that the Chancellor will have heard those words. I remind my hon. Friend that 3.6 million households already benefit from this concession, at a cost of more than £370 million a year. That is a lot of money, and I am sure that all hon. Members will join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Government on introducing that measure.

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The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—


29. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the level of spending on recruitment and retention of clergy (a) now and (b) 1991. [68942]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The Church has made no formal assessment within those parameters, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, during Dr. Carey's archbishopric, the number of attendees at selection conferences who were recommended for selection has risen to 71 per cent.—an increase of 16.6 per cent. during that period. Moreover, the number of ordinations has risen by 14.3 per cent.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman spotted the purpose of my question. I was tempted to ask about the recruitment and retention of archbishops, but I shall not do so. Can he confirm that, under George Carey's charge of the Church of England, the number of ordinands has gone up in respect of full-time clergy, and that the number of non-stipendiary clergy and deacons has also gone up? Moreover, women can now be ordained to the full ministry of the Church—an historic move that has added to the quality, quantity and extent of the ministry in a way that can never be undone.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the outstanding legacy of Archbishop Carey's time in charge has been the growth in the numbers of those ministering in the Church of England, while some other denominations in this country have sadly slipped in the other direction?

Mr. Bell: I am sure that the archbishop will be very grateful to hear the hon. Gentleman's comments, and I can build on what he has said. The national average stipend was £11,668 when Dr. Carey took office; in 2001, it was £17,030; and through its "Generosity and Sacrifice" document, the Church is aiming at stipends of £20,000.


The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Party Funding

30. Martin Linton (Battersea): What plans he has to ask the Electoral Commission for a report on (a) limits on individual donations, (b) new limits on campaign spending and (c) increased grants for policy development. [68943]

Mr. A. J. Beith (representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission): This summer, the Electoral Commission will launch a review of the funding of political parties, which will examine several issues, including the capping of donations. The

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commission will also undertake a review of the policy development grant scheme, and a review of campaign expenditure limits for parties and candidates is expected to begin next year.

Martin Linton: In considering the Electoral Commission's review, will the right hon. Gentleman note the comments of Lord Haskins? He said that the time has gone when we should allow our political parties to rely on large donations from individuals such as himself. He also said that we should allow more of the constructive work of political parties—policy development, training and international work—to be state funded, and that, as a quid pro quo, we should limit individual donations and reduce spending limits, so that people feel confident that their money is not just being spent on funding an escalating election spending arms race.

Mr. Beith: I have much sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says and with what Lord Haskins says, although not on every subject. The reviews to which I have referred will consider the arguments on both sides of the issue, and that will take place soon.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Would not it be a great shame if comments and questions of the sort that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) were thought to be motivated by today's news that the Labour party is between £6 million and £10 million in debt? Would it not be an even greater shame if, as a result, the public purse were to be raided by this Government yet again?

Mr. Beith: I am grateful for any means by which attention is drawn to this important subject, but it was clearly in the Commission's mind long before today's news came out.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Would it not be a blessing, not only for political parties but for the electorate, if there were a curb on campaign spending in general elections? Is not there enough evidence to demonstrate that all the campaign spending has hardly any effect on the outcome? In those circumstances, political parties would need less money, and that would be a good thing.

Mr. Beith: There is a curb on campaign spending in general elections and the only issue now is whether it has been set at the right level. We now have experience of the limit in operation, and we will have further experience in the Scottish and Welsh elections next year.


The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—


32. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): How many bishops employed (a) drivers and (b) private chaplains last year. [68946]

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Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): In 2001, 33 bishops employed drivers, most of them either part time or combining the post with other duties. That equates to 19 full-time posts. Some 35 diocesan bishops employed full or part-time chaplains as part of their office staff allowance.

Mr. Bryant: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but would not it make more sense in these days of straitened ecclesiastical finances for the Church to appoint bishops who can drive themselves and even say their own prayers? In that way, more of the clergy could be devoted to the areas where they are most needed—in the parishes—not just to supporting bishops.

Mr. Bell: I am always intrigued by my hon. Friend's questions and hesitate to suggest that his talents would be better deployed on subjects other than chauffeurs and bishops. [Hon. Members: "Ooh!"] That is meant as a kindly comment. The finances of the Church are not straitened. Bishops have learned to drive and do drive. However, we expect our bishops to be spiritual leaders, teachers, diocesan managers and local communicators. It is not unreasonable of them to accept such help as they can, and Professor Mellows' review "Resourcing Bishops" found that our bishops are by no means over-resourced, given all that they do.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in a large diocese—such as Lichfield, where the bishop is the Right Reverend Keith Sutton—the bishop must travel over a large area? While travelling to various locations, he has to prepare speeches and sermons. Is not it a good idea for him to use his intellect to prepare sermons and deal with documentation while he travels, rather than simply to drive himself?

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He draws attention to the fact that bishops have a wide range of responsibilities at diocesan, provincial and national levels. It is important that they fulfil those responsibilities in the most efficient way that they can.

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