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British Sign Language

9. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What recent discussions her Department has had with the Department for Education and Skills on ways to increase the use of British sign language on television. [145835]

The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): My Department is an active member of the British sign language working group, which was established by the Department for Work and Pensions.The Communications Act 2003 extends, for the first time, the signing target on digital terrestrial television to digital cable and satellite broadcasters. That target is that 5 per cent. of all non-excluded programmes should be translated into sign language.

Mr. Cunningham : I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but may I ask her, first, whether she has a time scale for expanding those sign language programmes; and secondly, whether she is prepared to provide incentives to encourage more of them?

Estelle Morris: There is indeed a time scale—that the target should be reached by the 10th anniversary of the start of the service. That differs depending on the broadcaster concerned. For the BBC it is 2008; for some of the others it is 2010. I am not about to announce any incentives to ensure that it is reached, but it will be closely monitored through Ofcom. My hon. Friend may want to know that towards the end of last month, Ofcom published its code for people with sensory impairment, in which it set out its plans for ensuring that the target was reached and how it intends to monitor and enforce it. I very much hope that we can make progress on this important issue.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): Of course, we welcome the recent official recognition of British sign language, as we do any practical action that is taken by Government or broadcasters to improve their services to people with disabilities; but given that although the broadcasting code has been extended, the figures in it have not been increased, can the Minister tell us when there will be any material sign of improvement in coverage of signing for hearing-impaired people? For that matter, when does she hope to resolve the related issue of the current technical and/or commercial impasse in extending audio description for blind service users?

Estelle Morris: The hon. Gentleman raises some interesting points. When I looked at the targets I was amazed that the target for sign language was much lower than those for other measures to help people with sensory impairment. One of the problems is that there is not a closed system, so that when programmes are signed everybody accesses the sign language as well as

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watching the full screen. It is hoped that in the near future, people who want signing will be able to turn it on, while those who do not want it will not need to have it. I suspect that when that technology is available there will be much faster progress towards the target. I do not set much store by the fact that the target was met, given that it was only 2 or 3 per cent.—it has now been increased by 5 per cent. More important is the ongoing technological work to create a closed system.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, I am told that work is progress. We hope that there will soon be a workable mechanism to make access to television for people with sensory impairments more probable. From now on, progress should be much quicker.

Business Tourism (Yorkshire)

10. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What plans she has to support the business tourism and conference trade in Yorkshire. [145836]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): VisitBritain promotes business tourism to Britain as a whole, working closely with the Business Tourism Partnership and a range of other partners, including the Yorkshire tourist board and city destinations such as York, Sheffield—my own town—and Leeds: for example, in relation to international conferences. It is interesting that those three cities have formed the White Rose university research group, partly to exploit the area of business tourism.

Hugh Bayley : Is my right hon. Friend aware that last year York had its best ever year for business tourism, with a 20 per cent. increase in bookings? That reflects the investment in new conference facilities that has been made by York racecourse, the university, hotels and the National Railway Museum, which won Business Britain's award for unique conferencing venue of the year for 2003–04. When will Yorkshire Forward complete its review of business tourism, and what will it do to promote further investment in business tourism in my constituency and elsewhere in the region?

Mr. Caborn: As I understand it, Yorkshire Forward has completed that consultation and will report back in the next few months. There will be further discussions on implementation. I welcome the fact that the regional development agencies are putting their new remit, tourism, right at the heart of the regional economic agenda. That is another example of added economic value, bringing together universities, local authorities and the development agency. That is to be welcomed.


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

Ecclesiastical Insurance

21. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): How much was paid to insure ecclesiastical buildings from (a) fire and (b) other damage in the latest year for which figures are available. [145847]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): I have been asked to reply, in the absence of the Second Church Estates Commissioner.

The information is not collected on a regular basis. In 1998, according to a one-off statistical exercise, parishes' expenditure on insuring their churches' income was £21 million.

Mr. Prentice : A year ago, almost to the day, a crazed axeman with an axe in each hand caused £200,000 worth of damage in Waltham abbey, knocking the heads off statues and damaging a 14th century stained glass window. That was the worst example of damage last year, but no fewer than one in seven Church of England churches was vandalised last year, and it falls to the parishes, as my hon. Friend will know, to bear the cost of insuring the church. Would it not be fairer for the Church of England to—

Mr. Speaker: Order. A brief question is the best way to conduct hon. Members' affairs. I think the Minister could answer that.

Mr. Lammy: The matter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) refers is a matter for the Archbishops Council, not the Church Commissioners. The council, through the Council for the Care of Churches, published a leaflet on church security and insurance, entitled "Safe and Sound". I am happy to pass on my hon. Friend's concerns to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, through the Archbishops Council.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Can the Minister tell the House whether the Church insures its buildings against acts of God? [Laughter.] If it does, does that not show a certain lack of faith, and if it does not, does that not show a lack of acumen?

Mr. Lammy: That is not a matter that would properly concern the Second Church Estates Commissioner.

Clergy (Employed Status)

22. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): What representations the Church Commissioners have made to the Department of Trade and Industry in relation to employed status for members of the clergy under the Employment Relations Act 1999. [145848]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): The Church Commissioners have not made representations to the DTI. In 2002 the Archbishops Council responded to the DTI's discussion document on employment status in relation to statutory employment rights, and set up a group to review clergy terms of service. Its first report was considered by the council on 9 December 2002 and will be debated by the General Synod in February.

Mr. Hoyle : Is my hon. Friend aware that Amicus conducted a survey of the clergy and found that 36 per cent. felt that their employment rights were being

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eroded? Rather than those rights being eroded, they ought to be seen to be improved. What can my hon. Friend do in that regard?

Mr. Lammy: I am aware of that, as I am a member of Amicus. He will know that a number of clergy are members of the trade union. They will no doubt want to make their voice heard in the General Synod discussion later this year.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): It is a matter of great regret that the Second Church Estates Commissioner is unable to be with us this afternoon, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will convey to him my congratulations on his well-deserved knighthood—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] I speak for other right hon. and hon. Members as well, it seems. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that members of the clergy should have employment rights equivalent to those of all other employees?

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman's question cuts to the heart of the issue. The distinction involved is whether a member of the clergy is an office holder—the view that the Church has maintained for some time—or has the traditional role of an employee. That is the subject of the DTI document, and it cuts to the heart of the debate that the General Synod will quite properly have later this year. I am sure that many views will be expressed in the House on where that particular buck should fall.

Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): This subject has been debated in the House for at least six years, to my knowledge. The McClean committee was set up more than a year ago, and I am delighted that its report has now gone to the Archbishops Council, but the matter now faces the necessary discussion in Synod and a consultation with the clergy, which will take some time. May I urge more haste and more speed?

Mr. Lammy: I know that no one has campaigned on this issue in the House more than my hon. Friend. There has been some progress, and the Archbishops Council made the decision about three weeks ago to debate the matter. This is a very complex issue which goes to the heart of what it means to be a parish priest.

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