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Theatres (Lichfield)

12. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): What plans she has to visit Lichfield to discuss support for theatres in the city. [122089]

The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State tells me that she will visit Lichfield tomorrow as part of a regional visit to the west midlands. She looks forward to opening the Lichfield Garrick arts centre and the festival that will take place over the summer.

Michael Fabricant : May I welcome the right hon. Lady back to the Front Bench? Members on both sides of the House are glad to see her there.

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Does not my question demonstrate the importance of Question Time? I ask a question about the Secretary of State visiting Lichfield and the Minister responds immediately by saying that the Secretary of State will do so tomorrow.

When the Secretary of State visits the Lichfield Garrick, will she look at the theatre's innovative ecological system? All the cooling is generated by natural sources and does not use air conditioning. Is she aware that the system was designed by the chair of the school of architecture at the university of Cambridge? In Lichfield, we lead the way not only in the arts but in technology, and we have a green Conservative district council, too.

Estelle Morris: The hon. Gentleman spoilt that at the end, but never mind. I thank him for his generous comments.

My right hon. Friend always does what she says; she promised to visit and she is delighted to be able to do so. I shall draw her attention to the ecological cooling system that has been installed, although I bet she would sooner see a performance than an ecological cooling system. However, I am delighted that the building is a good one.

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, because when we invest capital in places such as theatres and arts centres, we also want to see living architecture and technology. I hope that many people not only from his constituency but also—dare I say?—from my constituency in neighbouring Birmingham will be able to take advantage of the new facilities.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South): May I also welcome my right hon. Friend back to the Front Bench? I am tempted to ask the Secretary of State to go via Leicester on her way to Lichfield tomorrow, to discuss the problems of the Leicester Haymarket theatre, but I know that you, Mr. Speaker, would rule me out of order if I were to do so.

When the Secretary of State is in Lichfield tomorrow, discussing the future of theatres there and elsewhere, will she bear in mind two points? First, when the future of a theatre is being discussed, it is essential that all the theatre's members of staff, including those who are members of the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union—the appropriate trade union—should be involved in the discussions; and secondly, where Arts Council money is involved, it should be spent on keeping theatres open, rather than on closing them.

Estelle Morris: I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is looking forward to talking to my hon. Friend shortly. Of course I take those points. When public money is spent on theatres, it is important that everyone with an interest has a chance to express a view, but it is a cause for celebration that the increase in theatre funding has been so substantial during the past year. It is now £70 million—£25 million more than the previous year. My hon. Friend asks about who is consulted, but if the extra resources were not going in it would not matter who was consulted—no one would

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have any money. I take his point, but I am sure that he will join me in welcoming the extra resources being given to this very important part of our national heritage.


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

Postal Voting

20. Bob Russell (Colchester): What assessment the Commission has made in its inquiry into the 2003 local election pilots of the scope for fraud in postal voting. [122037]

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): The Electoral Commission's report on the 33 all-postal voting pilot schemes that ran at the May local government elections in England will be submitted to the Government on 31 July. It will consider, among other issues, the scope for fraud and the implications for security.

Bob Russell : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that response, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will deplore any examples of postal vote fraud that come to light. Does he agree that, in households with a dominant member, houses in multiple occupation and blocks of flats, the scope for fraud is such that perhaps we should not be going down the route of all postal vote elections?

Mr. Viggers: The hon. Gentleman, no doubt, is reflecting on the fact that the turnout at the local election in May was only 28 per cent. in his constituency. It is entirely appropriate that we should look at ways to encourage postal voting and other forms of voting. Each of the statutory orders giving effect to the pilot schemes included a requirement that returning officers should inform the commission and prosecuting authorities of any possible offence. The commission is now liaising with local authorities involved in pilot schemes to identify any substantial allegation of fraud or malpractice. The commission is also in contact with the Crown Prosecution Service and local police forces.


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

Church Collections

21. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): If he will make a statement on the level of income from collections the Church of England has received in each of the last four years. [122053]

Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mr. Stuart Bell): The total direct giving by members through standing order, payroll giving and cash in the last four

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years for which data are available—1998 to 2001—amounted to £244 million, £253 million, £268 million and £282 million.

Miss McIntosh : I welcome that reply, which is obviously good news for the Church of England, but does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the grave anxiety about the appointment of bishops might lead to a fall in church attendance and future church collections? Has he given some thought to how that could be overcome?

Mr. Bell: I am happy to reply—certainly in respect of giving. The 2001 figure that I gave increases by £52 million if tax recovered is added to the equation, and parochial church councils have received a further £149 million of restricted money. The Church welcomes that increase, but I am not entirely sure that it can be related to the appointment of bishops.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): On the appointment of bishops, will my hon. Friend take a view on the murky political campaign that is being conducted to overturn the appointment of the Bishop of Reading, which has been approved by Her Majesty the Queen?

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. I am sure that she is perfectly aware, as is the House, that the appointment of suffragan bishops falls within the purview of the Acts of 1534 and 1898. Once the sovereign has approved the appointment under the 1574 Act, the archbishop is legally obliged, in the absence of any lawful impediment, to proceed to consecrate the suffragan.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): Given the increased call on the Church's collection income to meet the demands of the parish assessment or quota, how can anyone—a regular giver or otherwise—obtain information that enables them to make sensible comparisons between the performance of one diocese and another in terms of delivering on financial management, property management and other aspects that lead to increased costs?

Mr. Bell: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point on how we relate and compare the costs of different dioceses. I am sure that he will wish to bear in mind the fact that, each year, the Church must find £800 million for its upkeep. Although we are content to see giving increasing, the problems remain enormous. The Church Commissioners are considering the type of analysis that he is calling for within the domain for which they are responsible.

Atypical Workers

22. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): What representations the Commissioners have made in the course of the review by the Department of Trade and Industry of employment rights for atypical workers. [122054]

Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mr. Stuart Bell): My hon. Friend will recall from previous answers that I have given to the House that the Archbishops

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Council responded to the Department of Trade and Industry's discussion paper at the end of last year. I have placed a copy of it in the Library.

Mr. Edwards : May I express the hope that the Government will recognise that ministers of religion and other clergy should be included in employment legislation? Does he accept that that is only the first stage and that they should also be included in anti-discrimination legislation? Does he share my view that all those ministers and clergy who are subject to discrimination on grounds of their sex, race or sexual orientation deserve our support and, most especially, the Bishop of Reading?

Mr. Bell: The position of the Bishop of Reading runs as a thread through our Question Time. However, I shall refer to the specific question, which is about the employment rights of the clergy. I assure my hon. Friend that the convocations in the House of Laity will put forward a paper on this subject at the July sessions of the General Synod. The Church is considering carefully the issue of human rights within the Church and employment rights. It is opposed entirely to discrimination of any sort and, in particular, to the discrimination of the sort to which my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I agree with the hon. Members for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) and for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) and assume, for the purposes of this question, that a bishop can be considered to be an atypical worker, so will the hon. Gentleman underline the point that Bishop John's skill as a theologian and his capacity for spiritual leadership should be the guiding criteria in favour of his appointment? His personal proclivities in terms of sexual orientation are no concern of anyone.

Mr. Bell: As I indicated earlier, the appointment of a suffragan bishop falls within the Acts of Parliament of 1534 and 1898, and none of those Acts refers to the matters that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. The appointment has been approved by the sovereign under those Acts, and the archbishop is legally obliged—in the absence of any lawful impediment—to proceed to the consecration of the suffragan.

Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): On the matter of employment rights, the Commissioners have given the impression of proceeding at the slowest possible pace and in a manner that is somewhat grudging. Will my hon. Friend tell me whether that impression is rightly or wrongly based?

Mr. Bell: I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that it is wrongly based. I thought that he would have taken comfort from the fact that the convocations in the House of Laity will put forward an interim report at the July sessions of the General Synod. I am sure that he will also be comforted by the fact that there has been an initial meeting with Amicus. Therefore, the Church is not being tardy; in my view, it has been quite sprightly.

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