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Amateur Sports Clubs

10. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): If she will make a statement on her policy on rate relief for amateur sports clubs. [129561]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): I am pleased that the Government were able to introduce an amendment to the Local Government Bill on 10 September. The amendment will provide mandatory rate relief for registered community amateur sports clubs. That further demonstrates the Government's commitment to supporting our 110,000 amateur clubs, and I believe that it is excellent news for sport.

Mr. Edwards : I thank my right hon. Friend for that excellent news and for the Government's commitment to supporting grass-roots sport. I can assure him that the secretary of Chepstow rugby club, whom I spoke to this morning, knows that 80 per cent. rate relief on the £4,000 that the club currently pays to Monmouthshire county council will be immensely beneficial. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that all the amateur sports clubs that stand to gain from this excellent policy will be informed and encouraged to apply?

Mr. Caborn: Very much so. I received a letter congratulating the Government—such letters are not very common these days—from the National Playing Fields Association. It reminded me of the association's annual report of 1930 and provided rather more detail than appeared in the Hansard when the matter was discussed at the time. That letter also referred to the annual report of 1931, which referred to efforts made

That letter continued:

From time to time the National Playing Fields Association has bashed the Government, but on this occasion I thank it for congratulating us.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): The Minister's announcement and the amendment to which he referred are extremely welcome, as his hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) rightly said. However, will he ensure that his definition of registered

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community sports clubs leaves no room for political correctness and, in particular, allows target-shooting sports access to the rate relief?

Mr. Caborn: We provided a definition of community amateur sports clubs, or CASCs, about 12 months ago and we have sent out 110,000 leaflets to the nine regions, establishing a one-stop shop for any amateur sports club that wants information on the subject, so it is not the burden that some people have suggested. We agreed the definition with the Treasury and that definition has been sent out to the clubs. I do not know whether the shooting fraternity has applied for CASC relief, but I shall look further into it and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Free-to-view Television

11. Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): What discussions she has had with (a) ITV, (b) Channel 4, (c) Channel 5 and (d) BSkyB regarding their policy on free-to view access to their services on digital satellite television. [129562]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): I accept that this question deals with a serious matter that many constituents have raised with their MPs of all political parties. The position is that, until May, the BBC provided Solus viewing cards to satellite viewers who did not have a subscription to a pay-TV service. That allowed them to receive BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 free-to-view. In May the BBC moved its services to a new satellite, which meant that viewers could receive them without any viewing card. The BBC ended payment to BskyB for the provision of the cards, and it is now for ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 to find an arrangement to ensure that customers continue to receive their public service channels without the need to subscribe to Sky. I have written to the chief executives to ask about their intentions and their responses indicate that the broadcasters are considering various options. I am closely monitoring the discussions, which I understand are making progress.

Mr. Brown : I thank my hon. Friend for her efforts thus far. In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns), I know that this is a serious issue. The problem is not just the lack of an analogue signal in some localities, but the lack of cable and free-view in rural parts of Dumfries and Galloway. The recent decision to broadcast unencrypted on satellite and to withdraw support from free-to-view viewing cards means, as my right hon. Friend rightly says, no signal for ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5 unless people subscribe to Sky. Will she therefore highlight to broadcasters the complete lack of access to free-to-view channels for those viewers and, if broadcasters are not prepared to find an answer, will she use the provisions of the Communications Act 2003 to empower Ofcom to insist on finding an answer?

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for posing that question on behalf of his constituents. It is important to be clear that we are not at that stage. Negotiations are proceeding and we are optimistic that the broadcasters

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will develop a solution. As I have made clear, we will keep the situation under review and we recognise the concern and anxiety that it causes to the thousands of people who are directly affected.


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

Marked Electoral Registers

21. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): To ask the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, what discussions the Committee has had with the Electoral Commission on the use of marked electoral registers in political campaigning. [129572]

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): The Speaker's Committee has had no such discussions. However, I am informed by the commission that it is currently reviewing the use and supply of, and access to, marked electoral registers and intends to make recommendations to Government when its review is complete.

Kevin Brennan : I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. In any discussions he has with the Electoral Commission, will he remind it that the Chartists campaigned for the fundamental human right to vote, and in secret, not for the fundamental human right to keep secret whether one voted or not? If the Electoral Commission did not allow marked registers to be made available to political parties, would not that represent yet another erosion of the idea of voting as a duty, rather than just another lifestyle consumer choice?

Mr. Viggers: I hear the representation made by the hon. Gentleman, but issues of law and principle, human rights and data protection are involved, as well as practical issues about the provision of an accurate register, especially during the campaign period itself. The commission is assessing those issues alongside the views of political parties and the public.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Will the hon. Gentleman put the other side of the argument to the Electoral Commission, especially with regard to Northern Ireland? In the past it has been the practice of certain political parties in Northern Ireland to make use of marked registers to see who has not voted for the purpose of personation.

Mr. Viggers: The Electoral Commission is considering all those matters, but it takes the view that if the marked registers can be made available—subject to the caveats that I have just described—it would be in the general public interest for them to be made available.

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

Sexual Orientation (Employees)

22. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): Whether the Church Commissioners have set or intend to set a requirement relating to sexual orientation for any of their employees in non-proselytising roles; and if he will make a statement. [129573]

Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mr. Stuart Bell): Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker. The Church Commissioners and the other national Church institutions are committed to an equal opportunities policy that provides comprehensive safeguards against discrimination on those and other grounds. The policy is currently being examined to ensure that it is consistent with the two new sets of employment regulations that will come into force in December. It is unlikely to need fundamental change.

Dr. Harris : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the sexual orientation employment regulations were changed at a late stage to allow organised religions to set an employment requirement on grounds of sexual orientation in order to comply with religious doctrine or to avoid offending the religious susceptibilities of a significant number of their followers. That exemption has been questioned by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments as possibly being ultra vires, and a judicial review is threatened by the trade unions. Therefore, how can he say what he has just said and how does he justify his remarks earlier this year, when he said that the Church

Furthermore, a letter from the Archbishops Council, dated 23 January, requests the Government to add to the regulations the very words that I have cited.

Mr. Bell: I surmise that that supplementary was written before the hon. Gentleman heard my reply. All anti-discrimination legislation carries the scope for organisations to apply genuine occupational requirements to jobs for which it can be objectively demonstrated that a person with or without a particular characteristic is required. Our policy is comprehensive, and it covers discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, nationality, colour, culture, sexual orientation, disability or age.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): I wonder, therefore, whether my hon. Friend will comment on the fact that at present the Church is able to discriminate on the grounds of gender against its women employees taking high office in the Church?

Mr. Bell: There is no such discrimination in the Church and I beg to differ from my hon. Friend. She will be aware that 2,000 women have been ordained in the Church of England since the Priests (Ordination of

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Women) Measure 1993. As I have already pointed out, we are anti-discriminatory in our Church and will continue to be so.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his answer; it is about as clear as it can be that dinner ladies employed in Church of England schools are not going to be sacked because they are lesbian and that caretakers are not going to be sacked because they are gay. Could the Church also take on something of a proselytising role and persuade other Churches to follow its example and, for that matter, in its own proselytising jobs, including bishoprics, could it adopt the same policy?

Mr. Bell: I am always grateful for interventions from my hon. Friend. He relieves me somewhat, however, as the question dealt only with non-proselytising roles.

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