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

Cathedrals (Lottery Funding)

24. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What steps the commissioners are taking to ensure that adequate funding is made available from lottery funds to maintain the fabric of English cathedrals; and if he will make a statement. [194591]

Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall refer to the question of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray). I am grateful for his reference to Westminster abbey, because that enables me to draw the House's attention to the tercentenary celebrations this Thursday. It is 300 years since the Church got its money back from the Crown, and this will be a worthy celebration.

In response to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), that is a matter for individual cathedrals and the Association of English Cathedrals.
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Michael Fabricant: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that answer. However, does he share my surprise that the paper by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—I am pleased to see the Secretary of State in her place—on culture and regeneration makes absolutely no mention of English cathedrals?

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a recent Ecotec survey says that cathedrals generate in the order of £150 million each year in total local spend for their regional economies, yet only one eleventh of all the money available for the maintenance of the fabric of English cathedrals comes from lottery funds? Given that these are often listed buildings that are 900 or 1,000 years old, is not that rather inadequate?

Sir Stuart Bell: We should

I will leave it to the DCMS to respond appropriately to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. On his second point, according to my information cathedrals generate at least £91 million a year for the national economy. They need to spend £11 million a year on repairs and maintenance, but from 2005 they will receive just £1 million a year in repair grant. If I may end with another quote from the Bible,

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): Given the nature of the crisis in funding across English cathedrals of all denominations, is the hon. Gentleman willing to convene a meeting with a Minister from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, somebody from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and representatives of the cathedrals to assess and agree the cost of the work that needs to be done, and then to find a better means of raising the money to do it?

Sir Stuart Bell: I would be happy to take up the hon. Gentleman's suggestion and to include him in any meeting.


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

Electoral Registration

25. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): What study the Electoral Commission has made of the feasibility of introducing a single harmonised national electoral register. [194592]

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): The commission reported last year that electoral registers should continue to be compiled and managed locally but should form part of an electronically maintained national register. To date, it has not undertaken any study of the feasibility of introducing a single harmonised national electoral register.
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Chris Bryant: One of the difficulties is that, because different parts of the country manage the electoral register in very different ways and are sometimes susceptible to the vagaries of local party politics, we end up with an electoral register that is very unreliable in many areas. Moreover, because many people move much more frequently than they used to, some accidentally or deliberately appear on the register at two different addresses instead of just one. Would not it make far more sense to move swiftly towards a single harmonised register?
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Mr. Viggers: That issue is very much in the mind of the Commission. I understand that it believes that creating a national version of the register based on local registers that comply with national data standards should help to ensure that voters' details are accurate and up to date. It would also help to underpin improvements to the registration and electoral systems. A national version of the register should also provide more efficient access to those individuals and organisations that are legally entitled to copies of the electoral register.

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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In proceedings on the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill last week, the Home Secretary said that he would make an announcement on Third Reading, and issued a press release to that effect. Third Reading never took place, however, owing to the incompetence of the business managers. In justifying his action, the Home Secretary alleged, at column 1542 of the Official Report of 27 October, that the Opposition had "filibustered". No such filibuster could possibly have taken place, however, since the House was voting during the time allocated for Third Reading. His allegation is also an attack on the authority of Madam Deputy Speaker, since any filibustering would have been ruled out of order under Standing Order No. 42. Will you therefore require the Home Secretary to apologise to Madam Deputy Speaker for his completely false allegation, and to apologise for his discourtesy to the House in making entirely false and mischievous allegations?

Mr. Speaker: I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is not for me to bring a Minister here to apologise. I have looked at the events of that day, however, and discussed the matter with my deputies. If any hon. Member had been filibustering, the Chair would have pointed it out to the hon. Member concerned. The fact that it was not pointed out means that there was no filibustering.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As a champion of Back-Bench rights who enables us to do our job of holding the Executive to account, will you offer me some advice? You may have seen press reports last week that the Prime Minister was refusing to answer my questions, and those of other hon. Members, about the meetings that he has had with representatives of the international casino industry, as well as the domestic gaming industry. Many people in the domestic industry believe that the
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international industry has been given more favourable treatment. It is therefore relevant that we should know whom the Prime Minister has met, and that he should answer our questions on this matter. Surely there should be some independent adjudication as to which questions the Prime Minister should answer. Will you help me, through your good offices or perhaps those of the Cabinet Secretary, to ascertain who decides which questions the Prime Minister should answer?

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps I can reply to the hon. Lady first. I am very pleased that she regards me as a champion of the Back Benchers. It is nice to have a vote of confidence now and again. I would say to her, however, that we are debating the Second Reading of the Gambling Bill today, and she can take these matters up during the course of that debate if she is lucky enough to catch my eye. Does that answer help the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray)?

Mr. Gray: More or less, Mr. Speaker, but further to that point of order, I understand that, on Friday last week, the lawyers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Labour party political advisers were seeking legal methods of avoiding answering questions tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) and me on this important subject. This morning, however, in the No. 10 briefing, the Prime Minister has answered those questions. He told the press that he had not had meetings with representatives of the gambling industry. Surely it is very strange to go to great lengths to avoid my hon. Friend's and my questions, and then to answer them straightforwardly in the press briefing this morning.

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