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we will be persuading those UK operators who currently operate offshore to come onshore to be properly recognised.
Can the Minister tell us how many such companies are trading in the United Kingdom? Will he provide examples of what he has in mind to induce those companies to come onshore? What action will he and the rest of his Department take if the companies do not do so?
Mr. Caborn: We put the 2005 Act, which will come into operation between now and September 2007, on to the statute book for that very reason. We do not have powers to intervene on online gambling and E Lines operations.
Mr. Caborn: Obviously, she did so, but that is why we put the Act on the statute book and why we will intervene through the Gambling Commission. Yes, we want companies to come back onshore: we have the best regulatory authority in the world, so we can protect both the vulnerable and the punter. We can keep crime out of gamblingthat is what the Act is about, and it provides Government with the ability to intervene to protect citizens. The hon. Gentleman ought to look at the Act again to find out the real reason why we put it on the statute book.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman think that experience of the political process is a valuable asset to a body that deliberates on, among other things, the funding and organisational practices of political parties? Does he consider that the practice of recruiting only people who have not had any active involvement in any political party for the 10 years before application may not be the best use of those potential assets to the commission?
Peter Viggers: I know of the hon. Gentlemans interest and recently read an article that he published on the subject. The 10-year rule and the other disqualification criteria for the appointment of commissioners and commission staff were determined by Parliament when it passed the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. However, as he may be aware, that aspect of the Act is being reviewed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in its inquiry into the Electoral Commission. It is a subject, too, about which the Speakers Committee has expressed concern, as the minutes of the July 2004 meeting reveal.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman will know that, under the previous Government, the Widdecombe commission looked at restricting the political activity of people in particular positions. Will he examine that when considering into what the Speakers Committee can make inquiries, because many of my friends believe that that places an undue burden on their right to pursue a passive interest in the political process?
Peter Viggers: Yes, the Committee on Standards in Public Life was instrumental in setting up the Electoral Commission. The current inquiry is wide-ranging, and I am sure that it will take account of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman.
21. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What initiatives the commissioners are developing to co-ordinate applications for aid from the EU to restore historic churches and cathedrals; and if he will make a statement. 
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): There are no European Union funds principally for the restoration of historic churches and cathedrals. The best thing that the European Union can do for us is to reduce VAT on church repairs. The church heritage forum is developing close partnerships with funding and fundraising bodies and disseminating information to church and cathedral authorities to assist in the upkeep of historic churches and cathedrals by way of a stitch in time.
Michael Fabricant: As the hon. Gentleman said that there are no funds available, I am inclined to ask, why not? Churches in the United Kingdom provide heritage that is of great European importance. Will the commissioners go to the other Commission and say that money is required, not only for great cathedrals such as Lichfield but for churches all over the country, as that heritage makes Europe so very different?
Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. [ Interruption. ] The House is in an hilarious mood. Compared with other parts of Europe, United Kingdom churches and places of worship are poorly funded. We recommend that some public funding should be available in recognition of both the contribution that they make to the community and of the cost of their upkeep.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I support the views of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) but, I visited Notre Dame and Sacré Coeur last week [ Laughter. ] As well as going to Leicester. Those are not just places of worship but places of great tourism. It is important to see whether European initiatives can be co-ordinated to support not just churches but places of worship for people of other faiths that have been turned into great tourism centres.
In other European countries, a more realistic contribution to the maintenance of the historic fabric seems to be possible, in
view of the considerable social benefits that church buildings offer to the whole community.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 25 October 2004; Vol. 665, c. 1146.]
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): That is fine, but, recognising that charity begins at home, what support are the Church Commissioners giving to English Heritage in its splendid Inspired! campaign?
Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to that campaign. English Heritage recently announced grants of £17.5 million to listed buildings, but that should be set against £328 million of repairs outstanding in Anglican churches alone in 2003, and the £101 million actually spent on repairs in that year. The English Heritage Inspired! campaign to which he refers has also called for more state funding.
Sir Stuart Bell: In July, the General Synod will debate whether it wishes to proceed to legislation and, if so, on what basis. The Church will need to decide at each stage the speed at which it wishes to proceed, but it would in any event be at least four years before the final approval stage is reached.
Ms Keeble: As my hon. Friend knows, meetings are taking place this week with the bishops to try to find a way forward on the matter. Does he recognise the strong body of opinion that exists in the Church in support of women bishops, and will he do everything in his power to ensure that proposals are brought forward quickly, including to this place? Everybody would want them to be made well within four years.
Sir Stuart Bell: My hon. Friends concern reflects the frustration felt by many right hon. and hon. Members. The Church, however, needs to give the matter careful consideration. Not everyone in the House, I would surmise, agrees with my hon. Friend. Synod needs to recognise and respect the integrity of differing beliefs and positions, and to weigh issues of theology and unity with arguments of justice. Even the Synod, when it comes to a conclusion, must vote by a majority of at least two thirds in all three of its sections.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May I put it to the hon. Gentleman that the short answer to the question posed by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) can be summarised in three words: Far too little?
Sir Stuart Bell:
It would be more apt if the hon. Gentleman said, A little too late, since we have had
women priests for some years. However, there is a dilemma within the Church that must be resolved in its own time and at its own pace. Although the messages that we give from the House are reflected in decisions in the Synod, we will continue to press on the issue to reflect the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) and by the hon. Gentleman.
Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): The Electoral Commission discharges its statutory responsibility for promoting public awareness of electoral and democratic systems through programmes of education and information. The Commission has also made a number of recommendations for changes to the law, aimed at increasing participation.
Hugh Bayley: I cannot be the only Member to have noticed the sense of pride and of fulfilling a rite of passage that many young people feel when they vote for the first time. It must be the view of Members in all parts of the House that we need to encourage a culture of participating in elections. Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Electoral Commission to consider the value of issuing something like a flag day emblem to everybody who votes, and possibly taking a leaf out of the blood transfusion services book, so that when people have voted a number of timeswhen they become regular votersthey get some permanent emblem?
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The hon. Gentleman will be aware that participation in local elections has increased slowly in the past three years, which is welcome. Will he commend to the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission these two ideas, in which the Department for Constitutional Affairs appears interested: first, holding a countdown to democracy day to encourage people to register in time to vote and, secondly, introducing a campaign to publicise the last day for postal voting? If those two things were to happen, many more people would be able to vote.
The commissions total budget for public awareness in 2006-07 was £7.379 million. The commission spent £3.65 million on advertising
activities associated with the elections in May 2006. It is open to new ideas, and I will pass on the hon. Gentlemans suggestion.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the best ways to increase participation in elections is to ensure that polling stations are conveniently located for voters? The Electoral Commission should consider issuing clear guidelines on how far voters are expected to walk to a polling station. In the last local election in my constituency, the London borough of Barnet placed one polling station in a marginal ward about 40 minutes walk away from a less well-off area and right in the middle of a more well-off area, which gerrymandered the result.
Peter Viggers: I know that the Electoral Commission takes the view that it is not possible to specify the maximum distance that an individual should walk to a polling station. However, the Electoral Commission is involved in such issues. For example, it has recommended a change in the last date for registration, so that it is closer to the date of an election, and it has also recommended clearer powers for returning officers and registration officers to encourage participation at a local level, which relates to the hon. Gentlemans question.
Chris Bryant: It looks as though the Church of England is slowly moving towards women bishops, but progress is far too slow. Many women who work in the Church would do a far better job than many of the current bishops. Will my hon. Friend tell the Synod on behalf of this House that we want women bishops as soon as is humanly possible and, for that matter, as is divinely possible? Will he point out to the bishops that, although every one of them voted with the archbishop for the ludicrous apartheid system, seven of them have subsequently written personal, private letters to me saying that they will not support those measures? Can we make sure that there is no apartheid on this issue and that women are treated equally in the Church?
the number of women ordinands is rapidly catching up with the number of male ordinands.[ Official Report, 13 June 2005; Vol. 435, c. 15.]
Sir Stuart Bell: Nearly half the clergy latterly surveyed stated that their standard of living was equivalent to or above that of the majority of households in their parish. By way of a statement, the average stipend increased by 25 per cent. between 1999 and 2005, compared with an increase of 16 per cent. in the retail prices index and 27 per cent. in average earnings.
Mr. Hoyle: Does my hon. Friend really believe that a parish vicars pay is substantial, given that a vicar must look after their family and will need a house at the end of their service? The pension should meet the number of years that a vicar has put into the Church in order to provide for quality of life.
Sir Stuart Bell:
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for relating his question to pensions. As I told the House on 24 April, the Church is reviewing its pensions arrangements. On the stipend, he will be aware that most clergy are provided with housing, including the payment of their council tax, water charges, maintenance, external decoration and insurance, and a
non-contributory Church pension. There is no such thing as a parish priest who is as poor as a church mouse.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): This years joint allocation from English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund for repair grants for listed places of worship is £25 million, while the VAT grants scheme reimburses about £12 million per year. By way of a statement, and to put these sums in context, in 2003 the cost of major repairs was £101 million.
Miss McIntosh: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that that amounts to a radical cut in heritage grants from last year? Has he had the opportunity to make representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to apply for a reduced rate of VAT, or have the Church Commissioners considered doing what is done in Denmark by imposing 1 per cent. on income tax for all those who practise at the state church?
Sir Stuart Bell: The first part of the hon. Ladys question deals with a Government Department. It is for the Department that deals with heritage to say whether the English Heritage grant has been cut. However, I can tell her that English Heritage estimates that the cost of repairs to listed places of worship, 80 per cent. of which are Anglican churches, will be £925 million over five years, or £185 million a year. We are raising the question of funding for church repairs with the Chancellor, but I would not be so bold as to invite him to add 1 per cent., or 1p, to income tax.
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