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Postal Voting

22. Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): What assessment the Commission has made of the possible use in England and Wales of the Northern Ireland system of proof of identity in postal voting. [10644]

Peter Viggers : The Electoral Commission's recent report, "Securing the Vote", made recommendations to the Government to improve the security of postal voting, but the commission informs me that it has made no specific assessment of applying Northern Ireland systems to Great Britain.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my hon. Friend agree that the integrity of the electoral system, and the prevention of fraud in postal voting, is more important than merely increasing turnout per se? With that in mind, will he ask the Electoral Commission to consider some of the Northern Ireland systems, whereby those who apply must do so in person or have a photograph or photographic document before obtaining a postal vote? Does he agree that that would reduce some fraud?
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Peter Viggers: There are significant differences between the voting system in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain, and for that reason the value of read-across is limited. The commission has recommended that date of birth and signature should be collected as a minimum from all electors at the point of registration but recognises that other individual identification details could also be collected, including national insurance numbers. That would be a matter for primary legislation, and the Electoral Commission takes the view that that is primarily a political matter for the House to decide.


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


23. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): What the average clergy stipend is. [10645]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): The average stipend for incumbents for the year 2004–05 is £18,680. That compares with a recommended national stipend benchmark of £18,480.

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend will know that part of what determines how much the stipend is in each individual diocese is whether the diocese has historic assets. Some dioceses are much richer than others. Is not it time that there was a bit more redistribution in the Church of England, so that all clergy, wherever they are, have the same stipend, and that we tried to increase it to at least £20,000, which was the aspiration of the Church some four years ago?

Sir Stuart Bell: Clearly, distribution goes to the heart of those on the Labour Benches, and is something that we all support. My hon. Friend is perfectly right that, as the Central Stipends Authority, the Archbishops' Council calculates the stipends, after consultations with the dioceses and the Church Commissioners, and having due regard for the views of the General Synod. Since the Synod is meeting today, I will ensure that his views are winged to it.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Would the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to let us know how much archbishops and bishops are paid, and if it is more than the rate for ordinary clergy, why that should be the case?

Sir Stuart Bell: The terms of that question are somewhat wide, but I would be happy to provide a written answer to the hon. Gentleman. As for central stipends, the Central Stipends Authority produces a full report each year and, for those who are interested, I would be happy to ensure that a copy is placed in the Library.
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Tourism (Religious Buildings)

24. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): What discussions the Church Commissioners have had with other faiths on encouraging more tourists to visit religious buildings. [10646]

Sir Stuart Bell: The Church Commissioners support the Church Heritage Forum's document "Building Faith in Our Future", which encourages all local and regional authorities to consider with the Churches and faith groups in their area how the economic effects of tourism can best be reflected in mutually supportive practical and financial help.

Ben Chapman: Does my hon. Friend agree that faith tourism is an under-exploited resource in terms of local economic development and in terms of providing resources for the maintenance of church buildings? Does he also agree that all major faiths have buildings and festivals of considerable interest, and that inter-faith tourism not only brings faiths together but increases understanding of different faiths and increases the tourism mass? Will he do all in his power to increase the development of inter-faith tourism, and in particular to consider any sensitivities in relation to awarding lottery moneys to faith groups?

Sir Stuart Bell: I am happy to pass on my hon. Friend's final suggestion about the national lottery, but he will be pleased to know that there are many examples of faith groups working together, one of which is the Liverpool walk of faith. The free guide covers a six-mile walk featuring the city's Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals, and the buildings of 10 other faiths and denominations. We like to think of the project as just a beginning of the fulfilling of my hon. Friend's aims.

Investment (Israel)

25. Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): What representations the Church Commissioners have received on their policy on investment in Israel. [10647]

Sir Stuart Bell: I have not had an opportunity before now to welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I gladly do so now. [Hon. Members: "Why?"] I am not in the business of responding to sedentary questions.

The commissioners do not have a blanket policy on investment in Israel.

Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Anglican Consultative Council recently recommended that the Church disinvest from companies that play a role in safeguarding the security of Israel. Does he agree that it is a great pity that the Church should discriminate against a fellow democracy at this time? Does he also agree that, particularly this week, the Church and many Christians wish to show solidarity and sympathy with another democracy that has been a victim of terrorism and suicide bombings?

Sir Stuart Bell: The Church's ethical investment advisory group receives many representations for and against our various investments, and there have been
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calls for a certain disinvestment from particular firms. The advisory group has found that investment in a particular company is not in breach of current policy, and has not recommended disinvestment.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): As one who has long advocated economic sanctions against Israel as the only possible way of making that country's incorrigible Government see sense and treat the Palestinians with any decency, may I, as an objective observer, commend the Anglican Church for substituting for the United Nations, the European Union and others that have not the guts and the good sense to impose such sanctions?

Sir Stuart Bell: I surmise that we are straying somewhat wide of questions to the Second Church Estates Commissioner. I can say, however, that the policy of the Church involves investments in various companies, and the companies to which we have referred are not involved in any export of arms to that area. There is therefore no recommendation for the Church to disinvest.

I repeat what I said earlier: we have no blanket policy on the state of Israel.


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

Compulsory Voting

26. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment the commission has made of the merits of introducing compulsory voting. [10649]

Peter Viggers (Gosport) : The commission has not undertaken a detailed assessment of the merits of introducing compulsory voting in the United Kingdom, but has previously expressed the view that its introduction would not in itself provide a solution to the problem of voter disengagement.

David Taylor: I do not think anyone is suggesting that compulsory voting is a panacea in its own right. The recent reduction in turnouts seems to have been halted at the last general election, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that it might be worth piloting such a system in some areas, or for a certain election, if we are to avoid
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an outcome that will otherwise be inevitable soon—the number of abstentions exceeding the level of support for the governing party in a general election?

Peter Viggers: The commission is studying the effects of compulsory voting in other countries. Its research will be completed and published in 2006.

Two opinion polls were held recently. In 2003, a MORI poll found that 43 per cent. of people supported making voting compulsory while 48 per cent. opposed it. Another recent survey showed that the main reason why people did not vote was

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May I put it to my hon. Friend that he should underline to the commission that leadership, engagement and inspiration are the ways to increase turnout at elections, and that to introduce compulsory voting would be deeply authoritarian and, frankly, the counsel of despair?

Peter Viggers: The commission does not propose to introduce legislation on that basis, and it will have heard what my hon. Friend has said.

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