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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): Creative partnerships is a real success story. It has reached more than 300,000 young people and 1,600 schools. The evaluation of the programme, particularly the recent Ofsted report, has shown that it is having a real impact in the communities that it serves.
Fiona Mactaggart: I thank the Minister for that reply. I, too, was impressed by what Ofsted, BMRB, BOP and NFER said about children doing better and the creative industries and their workers succeeding as a result of the programme. What will happen next? It has done so well thus far, so can we have more of the same?
Mr. Lammy: Creative partnerships have been such a success that we will, of course, have more of the same. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to press the point. We are seeing more in respect of extended schools, more in our mainstream arts organisations being engaged in schools and more specialist schools choosing the arts option. That is where creative partnerships move from existing only in some schools to existing across the country. My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the success of this particular scheme. Contact with schools from a range of artists is not just for a day or a week; we are talking about prolonged contact with some of our most deprived children. I thought that the most impressive report was the one from head teachers, 70 per cent. of whom said that creative partnerships had driven up attainment across the curriculum. That is why my Department supports the programme and is working closely on it with the Department for Education and Skills.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I may not be alone in understanding none of the acronyms to which the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) referred. I am sure that it is a brilliant programme, but I ask the Minister in all seriousness how it is promulgated, who may apply for it and how.
Mr. Lammy: The programme has existed for some years now. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) used those acronyms because she is well informed about the programme. This is creative partnerships, serving schools in our poorest and most deprived areas and bringing young peoplesometimes including those in pupil referral unitstogether with a range of artists. Poets, actors and visual artists, for example, are involved over a prolonged period to help drive up standards in schools. They seek to find new ways of bringing the arts and creativity into schools while having a positive impact on the rest of the curriculum. The programme is in its third phase, so I am rather surprised that the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) is not aware of it.
Mr. Hepburn: Just as it is right for the BBC to show the problems that children face through its Children in Need appeal, surely it is right for organisations and campaigns such as Make Poverty History to show us through TV adverts the problems that young people face in Africa. Does the Under-Secretary agree that it is disgraceful that the TV advert was banned because it was too political? Will he get his officials to meet Ofcom to ensure that anything similar in future is considered more sensibly?
Mr. Woodward: My hon. Friend raises an issue about which several hon. Members have been concerned. The Communications Act 2003 is critical because it prohibits radio and television advertisements being broadcast on behalf of political organisations that would
influence public opinion on a matter of controversy.
The key issue is impartiality. Of course, all hon. Members support the work of Children in Need, which is clearly not a campaigning organisation for political change. I appreciate that many hon. Members, including me, support the work of Make Poverty History, but Ofcom found that the advert directed viewers to the Make Poverty History website, which encouraged them to lobby the Prime Minister and the Government directly to make the campaign a high priority on the political agenda. The organisation therefore strayed on to the ground of political partiality, and I believe that is why Ofcom made its adjudication. I know that several hon. Members regret that and find it difficult to understand, but the matter was carefully considered in the House during the passage of the Communications Act.
21. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): If he will make a statement on the work being carried out by the National Audit Office on public expenditure by the Environment Agency on the Cuckmere Valley, Sussex. 
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) (Lab):
The National Audit Office has been involved in correspondence to look into the Environment Agencys expenditure, planning and preparatory work in the Cuckmere estuary in Sussex on whether to breach the river banks and allow the sea to flood the valley. To
date, the NAO has reviewed Environment Agency papers that are relevant to its inquiry, interviewed a range of interested parties, discussed matters with Environment Agency staff and is currently considering its response. It is worth noting that it is an unusual topic for the NAO to consider, in that the Environment Agency has not decided on the action that it will take on the estuary as part of its shoreline management plan for the area.
Norman Baker: I am glad that the Environment Agency has not decided yetperhaps I can influence it. May I welcome the NAOs work on the matter and express the considerable public concern in my area at the fact that the Environment Agency has run up a bill of almost £500,000 on a highly controversial scheme that has no planning permission and lacks public support in the area, where both district councils oppose it? Does not the NAO need to take steps to make it clear to unelected bodies such as the Environment Agency that they can proceed with schemes only with public support, not in the face of public opposition?
Mr. Williams: That is obviously a position for the hon. Gentleman to argue. I cannot anticipate the NAOs report but I spoke to the body this morning, and it is aware of the anxiety in the area and will try to produce the report in the next couple of weeks.
22. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What plans the Electoral Commission has to examine the limits on expenditure by candidates in general elections; and if he will make a statement. 
Peter Viggers (Gosport): The Electoral Commission has no current plans for such a review. Its recent recommendations on the variation of election expenses for candidates at UK parliamentary elections came into force on 4 March 2005. The commission also recommended a more fundamental review of the candidate and party spending limits. That is now being considered as part of Sir Hayden Phillips review of party funding.
Mr. Allen: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful reply. We have only to look across the Atlantic to realise what happens when there are no effective limits on national party expenditure. However, although the limits for national expenditure may be too high, all candidates for and Members of Parliament could make a clear case for increasing expenditure limits for local candidates somewhat. At the moment, £7,000 or £8,000 barely covers one direct mail shot to all our electors. Will the hon. Gentleman consider urging the Electoral Commission again to examine the matter more fundamentally?
Peter Viggers: The hon. Gentleman will know that when the commission carried out a review in 2004, it took the view that higher limits for candidates individual expenses would enable them to run more effective campaigns, ensuring that their messages reached more voters. Coupled with a lower limit for national party spending, the commission believes that that would encourage parties to channel more of their funds into local campaigns. Of course, that is one of the issues being considered by Sir Hayden Phillips, whose review is expected shortly.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): When Sir Hayden Phillips has finished his review, which we understand may be at about the turn of the year, does the hon. Gentleman anticipate that the Electoral Commission and the Speakers Committee will examine not just whether we ought to reduce the total limit of campaign expenditure, which the public want, and whether the official election campaign should have a slightly larger limit, but whether to stop the huge expenditure in support of an individual candidate before the general election begins? The public have shown no appetite for that activity, which seems to be wasteful of public expenditure and party funds. It would be a service if the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues recommended strongly that that expenditure should be capped at a pretty low level.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Further to the comment made by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), perhaps the Speakers Committee ought to consider the activities of the midlands industrial council, which, prior to the 2005 general election, pumped enormous sums of money into a range of midlands seats, all of which, coincidentally, happened to be Labour marginals, and all of which had a bigger than average swing. As a part of that covert and shady activity, some fine Members were lost.
Peter Viggers: The Speakers Committee does not get involved in the detail of administrative matters, but the hon. Gentleman has made his point and it will have been heard by the Electoral Commission.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Does my hon. Friend accept that there is strong public opposition to elections being more heavily funded by the taxpayer and the Government? I am happy to associate myself with the comments of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) in respect of reducing dramatically the amount that parties spend nationally, but perhaps greater funding of local expenditure to enable candidates to put out better literature might be considered.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Further to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North and the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, is not it an important principle in this country that no British person should have a better chance of election either because they are wealthy or because they have wealthy friends? If so, it is important that we consider expenditure not only during elections but in the year preceding, when many people pump tens of thousands of pounds into certain constituenciesparticularly those which are potentially Conservative-leaningso as to gain an unfair advantage.
Peter Viggers: The review being carried out by Sir Hayden Phillips is very important, and the hon. Gentleman and anyone else is free to make their views known to Sir Hayden Phillips, whose report is expected in the coming weeks.
23. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What the expenditure by the Electoral Commission on promoting public awareness of electoral and democratic systems was in 2005-06; and what the estimated expenditure is for 2006-07. 
Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission informs me that, for the financial year ending 31 March 2006, the total amount spent on promoting public awareness of electoral and democratic systems was £7.1 million. For 2006-07, the current forecast expenditure on public awareness is £6.3 million.
Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission was created by the House, and one of the duties laid on it was a statutory one to promote public awareness of electoral systems and systems of government. As the commission set out in its evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, it is considering focusing its efforts more heavily on promoting voter registration and information about elections and democratic institutions, and less on seeking to encourage voter turnout. I suspect that that would inevitably result in some reduction in expenditure by the commission. The commission will consider the matter further once the Committee on Standards in Public Life has reported.
The commission informs me that since January 2006 it has distributed about 13,200 overseas voter leaflets, and that more than 8,500 overseas registration postal and proxy forms have been
downloaded from its website. During elections in which British citizens resident overseas are eligible to vote, it runs campaigns which include newspaper advertising, public relations activity and online information.
Mr. Evans: But the number of eligible overseas voters who register is very small by comparison with those who could. Part of the problem is that very little of the £6.3 million being spent is ever spent on publicising overseas voter eligibility. Could my hon. Friend have talks with the Electoral Commission, which might be able to exert some influence on the Foreign Office? Perhaps our high commissions and embassies could be used to distribute literature on eligibility to overseas voters, and perhaps those who renew their passports abroad could be sent literature in the post with their new passports.
Peter Viggers: My hon. Friends first point is absolutely right. Some 13 million United Kingdom citizens are resident overseas, and we do not know how many of them are eligible to register to vote by reason of having been registered. Only about 17,000 of those 13 million or so are registered. Although that represents an increase of nearly 50 per cent. in the last couple of years, the figures are extremely small.
The Electoral Commission does use the facilities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office through embassies. It has also recently discussed with the Department of Work and Pensions the possibility of a further list of people whom it could contact.
Peter Viggers: The commission informs me that it has had significant success in increasing young peoples interest in politics through activities such as its advertising campaigns, educational resources, workshops and grants programme. An independent survey of people aged between 18 and 24 found that 52 per cent. claimed to have seen the commissions 2006 local elections campaign, and 24 per cent. claimed to have voted because of it.
Jo Swinson: I welcome the recent reduction in the age of candidature to 18. Indeed, I hope to be able to pass on the title of youngest Member of Parliament sooner rather than later as a result. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree, however, that we should try to build on that move, and reduce the age of voting and candidature to 16 so that young people can participate in elections as citizens in the fullest possible way?
Having conducted a comprehensive review of the matter in 2004, the Electoral Commission concluded that in the short term the voting age should remain at 18, but that it should be reviewed again when the citizenship programme in schools was more
established. Interestingly, a recent survey of some 1,000 people showed a majority in favour of retaining the voting age of 18, both among older age groups and among those aged between 15 and 19.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Would the hon. Gentleman consider sending advice to hon. Members? I conducted a survey of people who attend my surgery and found that, sadly, up to 40 per cent. of the young people who come to see me are not on the electoral register. I have been trying to sign them up, and wonder whether some guidance could be issued.
Peter Viggers: That is an alarming statistic. It is of course for local electoral registration officers to maintain the register and ensure that it is as accurate as possible, but recent legislation passed by the House gives the Electoral Commission powers to involve itself more closely in the work of individual electoral registration officers. I hope that that will have some effect in the hon. Gentlemans constituency.
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