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10 Mar 2003 : Column 16—continued

Lichfield Cathedral

21. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): To ask the honourable Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, if the commissioners will visit Lichfield cathedral in order to discuss the maintenance programme for the fabric of thebuilding. [101627]

Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mr. Stuart Bell): As the Association of English Cathedrals maintains the dialogue with English Heritage on matters of fabric funding, the commissioners keep a watchful eye on that. The Church Commissioners are well aware of the tireless work at Lichfield and other cathedrals to meet the continuing challenges of maintaining these much loved buildings.

Michael Fabricant : May I invite the hon. Gentleman to visit Lichfield cathedral, perhaps during the period beginning 1 July, when we have our international arts festival, some of which is held in the cathedral and some of which will be held in our new Garrick theatre? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we have just had to cough up £2.5million for a new organ, that we will have to find about £3 million to restore the Flemish glass in the cathedral, that it is a grade 1 listed building more than 800 years old, and that hardly any money is available from the Government to support the building? Is it not

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right that the hon. Gentleman should meet the administrators of Lichfield cathedral to discuss alternative ways of raising funds?

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; he makes me an offer that I cannot refuse. I will be happy to attend the Lichfield arts festival in July. I am aware that it is an internationally renowned festival and that it has broadcasts on BBC Radio 3, and I wish the festival well. I shall be happy to meet the administrators, so long as the hon. Gentleman does not require me to take a cheque for £2.5 million in my pocket.

Church of England Finances

22. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Toask the honourable Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, what assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the impact on the recruitment to the stipendiary ministry of the financial position of the Church of England. [101628]

Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mr. Stuart Bell): The Church Commissioners have made no assessment in those terms. The Church trains all candidates whose call to ministry is affirmed through the selection process, without imposing financial limitations. The majority of the funds needed to support the Church's ministry come from the generous giving of its members, and training is funded from this source.

David Taylor : Is it not the case that the amount of funds available per stipendiary minister varies widely from diocese to diocese? Is my hon. Friend concerned that in some rural dioceses, and in some inner-city ones, the cash available to recruit and appoint talented and well motivated men and women to the stipendiary ministry is disappearing fast? Does he fear that issues related to that will arise in the medium term?

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. May I say at the outset that we in the Church are very grateful for the giving that takes place throughout the country in different dioceses, both rural and urban? He will be aware that we have 9,500 stipendiary ministers engaged in the diocesan and parochial ministry. Although there are concerns about how they may be funded in the future, we are grateful for the giving by our members and by people who go to church on a Sunday. We hope to meet any concerns that my hon. Friend has in respect of rural and urban area ministries.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Is it not a fact that the Church Commissioners make a significant, substantial contribution towards clergy pay and pensions? If they are to continue to do so, is it not equally obvious that they must be encouraged to make the best possible returns on their assets, within what I would describe as self-regulated ethical constraints?

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, we have an ethical policy in the Church in relation to our investments. In 2001, the Commissioners provided some £160 million for the support of the Church. That was 20 per cent. of the Church's total expenditure of about £800 million. It is not often

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understood just how much money goes into the Church to meet its obligations to the clergy, to pensions, to the fabric of our cathedrals and even, with the help of the Government, for redundant churches.


The hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Postal Ballots

23. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): What assessment the commission has made of the likely effect of all-postal ballots for referendums. [101629]

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): On this occasion, I have been asked to reply on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), who apologises for not being in the House this afternoon. The Electoral Commission has made no such assessment.

Mr. Bryant : I thank the hon. Lady for that non-answer. I wonder whether she has noticed that a referendum in Malta this weekend had a 92 per cent. turnout and a very successful yes vote, about which all Labour Members are clearly delighted, despite several Conservative Members of the European Parliament campaigning against the yes vote for Malta to join the European Union. Would not it be a good idea for the Electoral Commission to consider the effect of postal ballots in advance of the euro referendum that we are likely to have later this year, so that it can recommend an all-postal ballot and we can get a really good yes result?

Mrs. Browning: If I can add flesh to the answer that I gave earlier to the hon. Gentleman, he will be aware that currently there is no provision in law for any UK national or regional referendum to be conducted by all-postal ballot. For mayoral referendums, the law provides that an all-postal ballot may be used at the discretion of the local authority. If he has an interest in such a ballot for other types of election, such as European elections, he may care to try asking a question of the Lord Chancellor's Department, which will be in a position to decide whether the House could make such a change in the law.

Voting Age

24. Bob Spink (Castle Point): What representations have been made to the commission regarding the reduction in age of voting to 16. [101630]

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): The commission has received representations directly from the votes at 16 campaign. It is also aware that a number

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of parliamentarians, political parties and independent bodies established to look into democratic engagement have supported moves to reduce the voting age to 16.

Bob Spink : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I know that she shares with me an appreciation of the importance of encouraging young people to participate in the voting process. Will she share with the House the strategies that the commission is adopting to increase the participation rate? Does she agree that while reduction of the voting age is an important matter, it should be considered very carefully?

Mrs. Browning: I am happy to advise my hon. Friend that the commission has been involved closely with the work led by the Government's children and young people's unit to examine the cause of political disengagement among young people, and to find solutions to these problems. The commission now chairs a group of non-governmental organisations involved in encouraging participation by young people, the main focus of which is to ensure that recommendations from the CYPU report are taken forward by those to whom they are directed. The commission also published in July 2002 the results of a research project analysing the factors motivating young people in their electoral behaviour, and will continue to target young people through its advertising and PR campaigns and wider outreach programmes.

John Cryer (Hornchurch): I acknowledge what the hon. Lady said. Does she agree that when 16 and 17-year-olds can pay taxes, work, pay national insurance and join the armed forces, there can be no logical reason why they cannot vote, too?

Mrs. Browning: The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that, on 27 February, the commission announced the start of work on a review of the minimum age for voting and candidacy in public elections in the United Kingdom. The timetable for that review envisages a period of consultation over the summer of 2003, with publication of a final report, with recommendations, in early 2004. The hon. Gentleman

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may want to make the point that he has made to the House this afternoon in response to that consultation—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Can we have some order in the House?

Party Funding Legislation

25. Martin Linton (Battersea): What discussions he has had with the chairman of the Electoral Commission on his current review of party funding legislation. [101631]

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) has had no discussions with the chairman of the Electoral Commission about that matter.

Martin Linton: May I ask the hon. Lady to ask her hon. Friend to have some discussions with the commission chairman about that? When she does so, will she urge him to give priority to lower spending limits for elections, a cap on donations, and a greater degree of support for political parties in the work that they do that is not directly political, such as training, international work and youth work? Will she assure him that there will be cross-party support on the issue, given that the Conservative party has received more money from public funds than it has in cash donations in the latest quarter, according to Electoral Commission figures—

Mr. Speaker: Order. One question.

Mrs. Browning: I think that I have got the hon. Gentleman's drift, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman will understand that, in fact, the whole Committee, not just my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), will have those discussions with the Electoral Commission, but I hope that he will be encouraged to know—this picks up several of the issues that he raises—that the commission has two reviews under way: a short review of electoral reform and the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998, which will be completed in May, and a more root-and-branch review of party funding, which will report by the first quarter of 2004.

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