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18 Nov 2002 : Column 357—continued

Chess and Bridge

11. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): If she will extend the definition of sport to include mind sports, with specific reference to chess and bridge. [81378]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): Officials from my Department are currently considering the potential for amendments to the Physical Training and Recreation Act 1937 to include mind games, and the possible implications.

Dr. Evan Harris : I thank the Minister for that answer, and for his support for chess and bridge. We have achieved great success in both bridge—notably women's bridge—and chess, coming fifth in the chess Olympiad. Does he recognise that his answer takes us back to the commitment to move matters along—given in March 1999 by his predecessor but one—so that, for example, disabled players of these games can access lottery funds

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to enable them to participate to the same degree as able-bodied players? Will he arrange a meeting between his officials and representatives of the British Chess Federation and of the English Bridge Union, to progress matters further?

Mr. Caborn: I am more than willing to meet the individuals and organisations that the hon. Gentleman refers to, but I should make the very important point that sport is now a devolved matter: devolved Administrations would have to take action to amend the 1937 Act, and we are far from having reached that position at the moment. The hon. Gentleman would do far better to lobby those devolved Administrations to get unanimity, so that we can consider amending the 1937 Act.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough): With the pressure on Sport England funding for genuine sports, will the Minister assure me that no funding will be diverted to chess?

Mr. Caborn: That will have to be considered if and when the 1937 Act is amended to include chess and bridge. It is not only lottery funding that is important: we also have to consider VAT and the other tax advantages of being designated a sport.


The hon. Member for Middlesbrough was asked—

Church Repairs (VAT)

30. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, what recent representations the Commissioners have received concerning VAT on repairs to church buildings; and if he will make a statement. [81524]

33. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, if he will make a statement on discussions with European partners on obtaining a reduced rate of value added tax on repairs and maintenance of church buildings. [81527]

Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mr. Stuart Bell): The Commissioners have not received any formal representations on this matter recently. However, a number of right hon. and hon. Members who have a strong interest in this matter visited the Church Commissioners recently, and I shall be leading a strong delegation to the European Parliament for meetings on 4 December.

Miss McIntosh : I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply and declare that I am one of the humble Members of Parliament to have been given hospitality by the Church Commissioners. What has been the take-up of

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the grants in lieu of VAT reduction on church repairs? Is not this a hugely bureaucratic exercise, costing the Church a vast sum to put the applications together?

Mr. Bell: The hon. Lady's continued interest in this matter is greatly appreciated, not only in the House but by the Church as a whole.

The number of claims received and being processed by the end of the third quarter of 2002 was more than 1,500, and the total payments to churches from the scheme, as at the end of August, was nearly #3.8 million. More applications are now coming in. The question of bureaucracy is currently under consideration with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and we are hopeful that it might be relieved somewhat, making it easier for the applications not only to be submitted but to be successful.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree that the interim measures for listed places of worship have been very welcome, although I agree with the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) that there is concern about what is an alteration and what is a repair, and what are fixtures and what are fittings? There is also a problem with the original invoices, which are often needed for other grant applications. Will he extend his consideration beyond listed buildings, which would be especially valuable in Wales for—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Bell: I am grateful for your assistance, Mr. Speaker. As we say in courts of law, that was not one question but two.

The Church Commissioners are always glad to see my hon. Friend, and we welcome his taking an interest in this subject. As he is aware, the question of invoices and of how we can speed up the process is very much in the mind of the Church. He will be happy to know that more application forms are now sent out and that the company administering the scheme on behalf of the Government is considering the matter. We hope that any problems with invoices will be solved and that they will all be successfully paid.


The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was asked—

Voter Participation

31. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, what proposals the Committee is considering to increase participation in electoral politics of under-represented sections of the community. [81525]

Mr. A. J. Beith (representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission): Consideration of such proposals would fall outside the statutory remit of your Committee, Mr. Speaker. The Committee has, however, endorsed the Electoral Commission's current corporate

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plan, which includes plans for promoting public awareness of elections, with a particular focus on groups that currently have relatively low levels of participation in elections.

Fiona Mactaggart : I hope to persuade the right hon. Gentleman to encourage the Electoral Commission to use its powers under section 13 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 to ensure that, in the education on electoral systems and democratic processes that it is able to fund, it targets groups such as women and ethnic minorities within all political parties, to ensure that they understand the electoral system and have better strategies to participate in it.

Mr. Beith: We are all aware of the under-representation of women as Members of this House and as candidates, but that is primarily a responsibility with which the political parties will have to deal. There is little evidence that women vote in smaller numbers than men; therefore the commission's work in that field has not included direct attempts to encourage women to go to the polls, since they regularly do so. However, the commission has approached the Equal Opportunities Commission to discuss areas of common interest and possible research projects. In addition, the new initiatives fund administered by the commission provides an opportunity for organisations to submit proposals for pilot projects, which might well meet some of the hon. Lady's goals.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): May I ask the right hon. Gentleman for some guidance? Councillor Stephen Worrall of Sheerness has raised a question to which I do not know the answer. His is one of the poorest parts of Britain, yet the local council, Swale borough council, is to reduce the number of polling booths, and he wants to know what legislation can be used to challenge that reduction. Not only is his area poor, but it is one of the areas of lowest turnout in the country.

Mr. Beith: I shall certainly ask the Electoral Commission to write to the hon. Gentleman with any useful advice it can give, but some of the responsibility may lie elsewhere.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): While it is, of course, important to ensure that pilot projects continue to ensure accessibility for people, so that they can participate in elections and cast their vote, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that until greater relevance is perceived in this place, rather than abuse by Whitehall and by Ministers, people will be disinclined to vote in general and other elections?

Mr. Beith: The Electoral Commission has engaged in quite a bit of research into reasons for not voting, but we all have our personal opinion, and in that respect mine and his are not far apart.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to give particular consideration to the needs of former mining constituencies, which do not fall into either the rural or the urban category? There is a

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specific problem with providing polling stations in next May's elections—indeed, in my constituency, one third of polling stations are likely to close.

Mr. Beith: Mine is both a mining and, in some parts, a former mining constituency, so I am aware of the problem. The matter is one that will have to be drawn to the attention of other authorities, including those in Wales, but I shall ask the Electoral Commission to keep a close watch on it.

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