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Olympic Games

9. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): What initiatives she is pursuing to inform other parts of the UK of the potential benefits of a successful London Olympic bid. [158924]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): The arguments that I set out for the benefits of the Olympics for Scotland are exactly the same as those for Wales. The millennium stadium will be an Olympic venue, and just as I am grateful for the Scottish First Minister's support, so I am grateful for the support of the Welsh First Minister.

Mr. Llwyd : I support the London Olympic bid, but there is a certain amount of concern in Wales. The right hon. Lady will know that the Sports Council for Wales has already cut grant funding—only half to two thirds of projects currently receiving grant aid will receive the full amount that they have been promised—because of the introduction of the Olympic lottery game. Bearing in mind the fact that the millennium stadium will host just one football match, the right hon. Lady will understand that the people of Wales are underwhelmed by the prospective bid.

Tessa Jowell: Let me deal with the last point first. Yes, that is the case, but there will also be opportunities to establish training and preparation camps for visiting teams in Wales, which has to sell the case for locating camps there. As for the hon. Gentleman's point about the lottery, there is a misunderstanding among a number of home country sports councils. Very simply, the position is that £300 million of sport lottery money will be allocated to the Olympics, but the decisions about the way in which that money is spent will be taken collaboratively by the four home country sports councils to ensure that each is content with the nature of support for elite athletes that that lottery money will fund.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that in Westminster Hall last week we had an excellent debate on the benefits of a successful London Olympic bid, but will she assure me that in the event of a successful bid, funds will not be diverted either from sports projects in the north and other parts of the United Kingdom or from grass-roots sport? The Olympic bid should be a success for the whole country, so will she do her best to press the

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Chancellor of the Exchequer to make sure that funding is available for facilities in the rest of the country, which should not be hurt by a successful Olympic bid?

Tessa Jowell: Yes, of course. I and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport argue, and will continue to argue, the case for sport. My hon. Friend is right—it would be wrong if a successful bid to host the games in London were to lead to a reduction in funding for community and school sports facilities in the rest of the country. Underlying the bid for the Olympics is the ambition to get more kids playing sport, competing and becoming champions.

ELECTORAL COMMISSION COMMITTEE

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

Local Government Boundary Review

20. Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton) (Lab): To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, what proposals there are to allow further and wider community participation in the procedure for the review of local government ward boundaries; and if he will make a statement. [158936]

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): Later this year, the boundary committee for England will complete its programme of periodic electoral reviews. I understand that the Electoral Commission will then undertake a comprehensive appraisal of its review processes and policies, which will include consideration of community participation in the process.

Mr. O'Brien: I advise the House that from my experience of schemes for changing the ward boundaries of local authorities, local individuals and groups may come up with perfectly good ideas, but because they do not have the ordnance survey, the electoral details or the projected housing for the next five years, and cannot supply that information to the boundary committee, their scheme is not considered. That is unfair and unreasonable to the people involved and changes will have to be made. When will the House have the opportunity to debate the recommendations of the boundary committee and the boundary commission?

Mr. Viggers: The boundary committee asks local authorities being reviewed to make available locally all relevant electoral data so that any interested party should be able to access exactly the same detailed information on which to base their proposals as does the council. The committee also provides a wide range of information to interested parties about its electoral review work through the press, media, its website, council offices and local libraries. I am advised that the Electoral Commission and its boundary committee then give equal consideration to all submissions that are received, with the main consideration being the level of argumentation and advice that accompanies any

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submissions. Later today, the House will have an opportunity to consider some aspects relating to Electoral Commission work.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I declare an interest, inasmuch as the Vale of York came into being in 1995 and is due to expire when the next boundary commission takes effect. Is it the case that in their representations on local government boundary changes, parish councils carry more weight than individuals? Is the Speaker's Committee mindful of that, and should not individuals be heard in the same way as parish councils and others?

Mr. Viggers: The advice I have been given is that the Electoral Commission and the boundary committee review the level of argumentation and evidence that accompanies any submissions, and they seek to be scrupulously fair.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Might there not be more interest in the review of local government boundaries if there were more candidates coming forward in local government elections, especially in parish areas where there are often hosts of unopposed returns? Might there be added interest if there were a television campaign at about the time of the elections to encourage people to stand? There would then be greater interest in what was happening in the community, which might affect boundary reviews.

Mr. Viggers: The Electoral Commission carries out a wide range of activity to encourage interest in the electoral process. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's point will be noted.

All-postal Elections

21. Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, what assessment the Electoral Commission has made of the potential risks of holding all-postal pilots in four regions in the June 2004 European and local government elections. [158937]

Mr. Viggers : The Government directed the commission to make recommendations as to which regions were most suitable to undertake all-postal voting in the June 2004 European and local government elections. The commission's report published in December therefore examined a range of issues, including the potential risks in each potential pilot region. The commission concluded that two regions best met the criteria and were suitable for piloting all-postal voting. Its opinion on the Government's proposal for four regional pilots, as opposed to two, is set out in the letter of 4 March from its chairman to the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie), the text of which is available on the commission's website and a copy of which has been placed in the Library.

Mr. Hammond : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. I have now seen the letter to which he referred, but it had not been published when I tabled my

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question. It is clear from the letter that the Government have attempted to lean on the Electoral Commission ahead of today's consideration of Lords amendments to the European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill, which would have the effect of reverting to two pilots, as the Electoral Commission recommended. It is much to the commission's credit that it is unbowed in its objection to conducting more extensive all-postal voting before necessary legislative changes are made. The letter makes it clear that its expert opinion is being overridden by the Government.

It is only by chance that that important letter came to my attention today, and I suspect that many other hon. Members will not be aware of its presence. Will my hon. Friend explore with the Electoral Commission whether it could routinely make available in the form of briefings to Members of Parliament matters of such importance, where issues touching on its work are to be debated in the House?

Mr. Viggers: I think that the Electoral Commission has been assiduous in keeping hon. Members informed of developments in the field of electoral reform. The issue in question arose at very short notice, and the letter was placed on the commission's website and in the Library, so it was available to colleagues. The commission was concerned about the number of pilot regions. The letter states:


It went on to say:


There will be an opportunity for the matter to be discussed in the House later today.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Electoral Commission, which does a good job in protecting the interests of the electorate, is right to be concerned about the lack of proper supervision? If the Bill gets on to the statute book, will he do everything that he can to encourage it rapidly to put in place monitoring machinery that will ensure that there is no fraud or forgery, as that would be very damaging to the electoral process?

Mr. Viggers: Indeed. The hon. Lady referred to her concerns, which are reflected in the chairman's letter, which states that all-postal elections need to be


That is one of the risks that was identified in the Electoral Commission's report of December 2003, and one of the matters that has not perhaps been given the weight that the commission might have wanted it to be given in the Government's response.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Is the hon. Gentleman concerned that the views of the Electoral Commission are being systematically misrepresented by Ministers in this House? For example, on Thursday 4 March the Leader of the House said of the Electoral Commission:

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My understanding is that that is exactly what it did not say. I wonder what the hon. Gentleman would say about that observation.

Mr. Viggers: I have seen a copy of the parliamentary report and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on it. What is more appropriate is for me to read out a section of the letter from the chairman of the Electoral Commission, dated 4 December:



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