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Football Association

11. Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): What recent discussions she has held with the Football Association on (a) its structure and (b) governance of the sport. [194576]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): As with all governing bodies, the Government's aim is for them to be fit for purpose. The Football Association is no exception. The FA has been discussing a review of the organisation, including its structure and governance, since the spring of 2004. The events of the summer have underlined the need for a review, and the board and council are committed to one headed by an independent person, who will want to take a view on when they will be able to report. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to the FA in August this year, and I have been in regular contact with the FA during this time.

Andy Burnham: I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister must have gone for extra time on this question.

Is it not the clearest sign that the Football Association desperately needs reform that supporters have no voice on its council yet a place can be found for Cambridge and Oxford universities and the public schools? Does my hon. Friend share my concern of reports that talk of reform is being used by some of the big clubs to grab yet more power? Does he agree that that is the last thing that football in this country needs?

Mr. Caborn: Very much so. We must question why we have the Independent Football Commission. We must question also why we have an organisation for the fans. Further, we must ask why we have separate funding for grass-roots football through the foundation. Any review would consider the good regulation and governance of this important sport that is our national game. I hope and believe that the FA, within the terms of reference and given the person that it appoints, will bear that in mind. The FA will then be fit for purpose and will be a governing body of which we can all be proud.
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The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Church Repairs

20. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): If he will make a statement on the level of funding for church repairs in the current financial year. [194586]

Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund are making available £25 million for 2004–05 towards repair grants for listed places of worship of all faiths. This needs to be set against the £93 million spent in 2002 by the Church of England alone.

Miss McIntosh: Can the hon. Gentleman confirm newspaper reports that funding is insufficient to keep up with the repairs that are required?

Sir Stuart Bell: If I may quote the words of Aneurin Bevan, the reading of newspapers remains for me a source of "continuous fiction". I am not able to comment on that particular newspaper report.

If I may make a plug for my own constituency, we have Holy Trinity church, North Ormesby, where by way of church repairs we have a new multi-purpose church-run community centre. This has been a major catalyst for regeneration of the area. I was present when the Archbishop of York opened the centre. This is an example of what the hon. Lady supports for the rural communities that she represents, where she devotes a great deal of energy—more, I dare say than on the reading of newspapers.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend recognise that churches such as St. Peter's in the town centre of Burnley—an ancient church that is a focal part of the town—has had to find £65,000 recently to repair the pinnacles? It has been one thing after another. About £1 million has been spent over recent years. English Heritage rightly insists on certain conditions being maintained but is not able to assist with the finance for the essential repairs to be undertaken.

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reference to his constituency and for drawing attention to the dilemma that we face, first, in repairing our churches and, secondly, in having them a part of a community. I refer him to the remarks of the Bishop of London in the other place on 25 October, and particularly to the statement of Lord McIntosh, when he said that the Government will respond positively to the Church Heritage Forum's report in due course. We accept a good deal of the analysis of the problem and many of the solutions. There is a problem in my hon. Friend's constituency and there is a solution, and that is to the benefit of his community.
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21. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the first report of the Pensions Commission; and if he will make a statement. [194587]

Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): The report is an authoritative analysis of a problem facing pensioners, the pensions industry and Government. The Church of England pensions board will discuss the report at its next meeting on 24 November.

David Taylor: Ministers of religion do not seek or receive the fame and fortune accorded to Ministers in government, so it is crucial that those called to lead our worship, our parishes and our communities at least receive decent treatment at the end of their working lives. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Church Commissioners will respond positively to the challenges and choices flagged up by the Turner report, so that potential priesthood recruits are not deterred by prospective poverty in retirement?

Sir Stuart Bell: My hon. Friend has made a valid and pertinent point. We are not here to discuss the pension rights of ministers of religion, but he will be aware of the Church's commitment to a defined benefit scheme, which is more generous than the money purchase schemes to which many employers are switching—in effect, money purchase schemes switch the risk to employees. I also remind my hon. Friend that the Pensions Commission's report does not offer detailed conclusions, and the final report is due in 12 to 18 months' time. On encouraging recruits to the priesthood, the numbers who have joined encourage us, and those recruits were not put off by the pension schemes for clergy on retirement.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): How many retired members of the clergy are dependent on means-tested benefits?

Sir Stuart Bell: The hon. Gentleman obviously reads the newspapers, where he can also read his own comments. I will be glad to give him an answer, if I can, and place it in the Library.

Westminster Abbey

22. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): When the builders' yard between Westminster abbey and St. Margaret's Westminster will be removed. [194589]

Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): The Dean and Chapter intend to proceed with removing the builders' yard and, as soon as practicable, landscape the area.
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Mr. Gray: That answer is extraordinarily welcome, and I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for it.


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

Electoral Registration

23. Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): What recent steps the Electoral Commission has taken to bring about a higher level of electoral registration. [194590]

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): It is the duty of electoral registration officers to maintain the electoral registers, while the Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to promote public awareness. The commission directs pre-election reminders at the entire electorate and runs campaigns targeted at specific groups such as home movers, students and young people outside formal education. It also provides advice on the local promotion of electoral registration.

Mr. Lazarowicz: Although the way in which we register electors in this country does not have the same variety as in some other countries that we could mention, different local authorities approach electoral registration in different ways, which no doubt affects the number of people who are registered. Will the hon. Gentleman ask the commission to examine how to encourage local authorities to adopt best practice in order to ensure the highest possible level of registration? In particular, will he consider asking the commission to give guidance to local authorities on ensuring that they produce publicity and advertising material in all appropriate languages other than English?

Mr. Viggers: Yes; I understand that the commission operates in seven languages. The commission published a guidance manual in 2002 that suggested methods that registration officers could use to encourage registration, and it included a practical guide to planning and running a registration campaign. The commission continues to respond to requests from registration officers for advice in that area. In addition, the commission produces an annual canvass and other registration publicity materials, which are available on demand by registration officers.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): My hon. Friend is already aware of the alarming fall in the registration of men and women in the armed services caused by a change in rules by the Electoral Commission, which now requires servicemen to re-register annually. Does he consider it a disgrace, particularly at this time, that so many servicemen may find themselves without a vote at the next general election? What action has the Electoral Commission proposed to try to rectify that?
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Mr. Viggers: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for identifying that important point. If I tell him that in the borough of Gosport the number of service-registered voters has fallen from 4,370 in 2000 to 474 in 2004, he will recognise that I personally share his concerns. Perhaps rather surprisingly, I am advised by the Electoral Commission that it has no direct powers to investigate the statistics. However, when I spoke to its chairman this morning, he told me that he will approach the Ministry of Defence with a view to working together to assess the extent of the problem of non-registration of service personnel and to consider what steps might appropriately be taken. The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that it is very much seized of the issue.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman bring the Electoral Commission's attention to several measures that I put before the House from 1993 onwards in an attempt to improve electoral registration, especially in terms of rolling registers? As we have a highly mobile society, registration should follow people around to ensure that they are on the register.

Mr. Viggers: There are currently no centrally held data on that in relation to Britain. In Northern Ireland, Electoral Commission research found that rolling registration resulted in an increase of 2.1 percentage points in the number of names on the register during the six-month period between December 2002 and May 2003. The commission's current research project on electoral registration in Britain will investigate the impact of rolling registration by using case-study evidence from a selection of local authorities. The project is expected to be completed by the spring or summer of 2005.

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