Previous Section Index Home Page

BBC World

10. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): If she will consider the merits of providing public funding for BBC World. [131515]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Shaun Woodward): BBC World is a commercial service and we have no plans to consider public funding.

Norman Baker: I cannot say that I am surprised by that response, but will the Minister explain what the logic is of the BBC World Service radio programmes—I understand that there is now some television, too—being funded through a Foreign and Commonwealth Office grant? I recognise the great value of the BBC World Service to this country, but BBC World, which after all uses the growing medium of television rather than radio, is not funded in that manner. Is that not an anachronism that ought to be sorted out?

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman makes what may seem to be an interesting point, but I think that he may be a little dispossessed of the facts. Of course we admire the work done by BBC World, as well as the work done by the World Service. The World Service receives £252 million through grant in aid from the Foreign Office, but BBC World is a separate operation. Unlike the World Service, it is a commercial operation
16 Apr 2007 : Column 15
funded by subscription and advertising revenues. As such, BBC World contributes to relieving financial burdens on the licence fee payer for the BBC overall.

Remote Gambling Summit

11. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): If she will make a statement on the Government’s international summit on remote gambling. [131516]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): During the summit there was widespread agreement to co-operate further in a number of key areas to ensure that gambling remains fair and crime-free and that vulnerable people are protected. On 29 January, we published the summit communiqué. We are now inviting views on the scope and membership of an international working group to consider standards in these key areas, and my Department is in discussion with the industry, regulators and experts in other key sectors, including finance.

Mr. Mackay: The simple truth is that online gambling is just about impossible to police, so does the Minister agree that the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s proposals to increase taxation on gambling in this country will drive more of the industry abroad and make it even harder for the Minister to regulate, which he and I both want.

Mr. Caborn: Irrespective of the taxation issue, that international conference was attended by representatives from 35 jurisdictions, because of the very issues raised by the right hon. Member. It is true that it is not an easy issue, but at the conference, for which we called because of the problems of internet gambling, we agreed that we should have a framework of international regulation and governance that begins to address the three principles that I outlined. Irrespective of where the operation is, and in whatever country, it is important that people sign up to that charter, and that is what we are trying to achieve.

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Political Engagement

18. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): What assessment he has made of recent work undertaken by the Electoral Commission on political engagement; and if he will make a statement. [131439]

Peter Viggers (Gosport): The Electoral Commission and the Hansard Society have recently published the results of their fourth joint audit on political engagement. However, the hon. Lady will know that the Speaker’s Committee has no role or duty to make a specific assessment of that or of other recent work undertaken by the Electoral Commission on political engagement.

16 Apr 2007 : Column 16

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reply but, like me, he will have noted that that report showed that 70 per cent. of people were willing to sign a petition and that 55 per cent., which is about the same as the number of people who voted in the last election, had done so. Does he therefore think that the way in which the House deals with petitions from members of the public can be improved, and will he discuss with the House authorities how we can use petitions from our constituents more effectively?

Peter Viggers: The Speaker’s Committee has no specific role in examining those matters, but the hon. Lady makes a very important point. The growth in early-day motions in the House has led to an awareness that there are many ways in which people seek to draw issues to public attention, and petitions are one way in which they do so. She makes a valuable point which, I am sure, will be considered.

Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a need to engage younger people in the process, and should not greater support be given to the UK Youth Parliament, and excellent youth MPs such as Luke Springthorpe in my constituency, who do a great deal to engage young people? Perhaps we should even provide votes for them at 17 rather than at 18.

Peter Viggers: Yes; the commission informs me that it has enjoyed significant success in increasing young people’s interest in politics through activities such as advertising campaigns, educational resources, workshops and a grant programme. An independent survey of 18 to 24-year-olds found that 52 per cent. of them had seen the commission’s 2006 local elections campaigns, and 24 per cent. claimed to have voted because of them.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give encouragement, through the Speaker’s Commission, to the Electoral Commission, to continue to encourage voters and potential voters to register to vote where they are, which will help young people and others to take part in elections, whether local or national.

Peter Viggers: Yes, the recent study of the Electoral Commission by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and the Electoral Commission’s response, indicated that the Electoral Commission does indeed intend to devote more resources to electoral registration and the mechanics of voting.

Church Commissioners

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


19. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What assessment the commissioners have made of the effect of single stream funding on the operations of English cathedrals; and if he will make a statement. [131440]

16 Apr 2007 : Column 17

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): The rationale behind the proposal is that funds might be more accurately matched to local priorities if some of the financial decision making were localised. By way of a statement, some dioceses and cathedrals have asked to test the proposal, which is one of a number under consideration as we contemplate the best use of the commissioners’ funds from 2008 to 2010.

Michael Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman may know that a number of cathedrals feel very uncomfortable about that arrangement. Does he agree that diverting funds away from cathedrals to dioceses will weaken cathedrals’ ability to attract people of faith and of no faith at all? Does he agree that a centrally based body, rather than a diocesan-based body, is better positioned to give a strategic view on how funding should apply to cathedrals?

Sir Stuart Bell: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s point will be taken into account in the consultation process. We are consulting the Association of English Cathedrals, the House of Bishops, the Archbishops Council and diocesan representatives about our spending plans, and we will consider very carefully the views put forward by the hon. Gentleman.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend say whether he thinks that consultation should take place directly with cathedrals, such as St. Martin’s in Leicester? I agree with the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) that there is a deal of unease that the proposals might weaken the way in which that cathedral has developed its community role in such a magnificent fashion in the past two decades.

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to the cathedral to which he has referred. We will write to the cathedral directly and ask for its views. The single stream idea will not be imposed on anybody, but some dioceses have indicated that they might like to have a trial run. I welcome that, because we need to be creative if the Church is to enjoy maximum value from our distributions, as I am sure that he and the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) agree.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): The English cathedrals have had a double whammy from this Government. First, single streaming will have a damaging impact. Secondly, have the Church Commissioners assessed the impact of the reduction in the basic rate of tax on tax-giving in cathedrals? An unintended consequence of lowering the basic rate of tax has been a substantial loss.

Sir Stuart Bell: The hon. Gentleman’s question is broad and wide. With your dispensation, Mr. Speaker, I will take up that point with the commissioners and give him a proper answer, which may also end up in the Library.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the great glories of our English cathedrals is the quality of the
16 Apr 2007 : Column 18
music that they produce, which is at risk because of the proposals that are being considered?

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to music. One of the great features of my visits to Lichfield cathedral is listening to the music, and many cathedrals are renowned for their music. We often discuss the importance of our outstanding cathedrals and their ministry to the whole nation. This House pays tribute to the cathedrals, to their music and to all that goes on within their precincts.

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Electoral Spending

20. Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): What progress the commission has made in its consideration of whether further regulation is required to differentiate more clearly expenditure spent on behalf of an individual candidate in a constituency and national expenditure spent on behalf of that candidate’s party in that constituency. [131441]

Peter Viggers (Gosport): The commission has informed me that it intends to consult the political parties following the 2007 May elections to consider, among other issues, whether there is a need for further regulation on the treatment of party and candidate expenditure.

Dr. Pugh: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that election literature that names a constituency, that comments on issues in a constituency and that urges people to vote for one party and not for another should no longer be kept off candidates’ expenses, even though the candidates are not named?

Peter Viggers: The hon. Gentleman’s point does not precisely follow his question, in my opinion, but he has made his point. On the broader issue of funding, the Electoral Commission made its own recommendations in its study in 2004. The situation has moved on since then with the publication of Sir Hayden Phillips’s report. The matter is now in the hands of the parties to discuss that report and to find a way forward.

Church Commissioners

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

Clergy Working Group

21. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): What recent discussions the Church Commissioners have held with the Department of Trade and Industry on the work of the clergy working group. [131442]

16 Apr 2007 : Column 19

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): The clergy working group, on which the Church of England was represented, produced a statement of good practice setting out minimum standards for the terms and conditions of service for ministers of religion. The Church of England has committed itself to those principles and the General Synod has drafted legislation that has been sent to DTI officials, with whom we regularly communicate.

Ben Chapman: Even accepting that the wheels of the Church grind slowly, does my hon. Friend agree that, given that we have been talking about this for some 10 years, it needs to move more quickly than it has? In so far as he can, will he encourage, through the clergy working group, other churches with similar problems to move equally quickly?

Sir Stuart Bell: With regard to my hon. Friend’s latter point, I certainly agree to do that. He has campaigned consistently on this and is understandably impatient about the synodical timetable. I can assure him that the Church has made excellent progress with these complex matters, and with his support, and that of the House, we will ensure that they reach legislation as quickly as possible. I have to tell him, however, that within the Church “quickly as possible” means “not before 2009.”

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Electoral Administration

22. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): What plans the Electoral Commission has to exercise the powers given to it under the Electoral Administration Act 2006 to set and monitor performance standards in electoral services. [131443]

Peter Viggers (Gosport): The Electoral Commission informs me that it is developing performance standards for electoral services. It is intended that the standards for electoral registration will be set in early 2008 and that the standards for elections will be in place for 2009.

Bob Spink: I am grateful for that answer, but how can we ensure that during the current elections, pending the new performance standards, no electoral returning officer will make perverse decisions that are possibly against the law?

Peter Viggers: The commission informs me that it has no powers to compel performance improvement. Its powers are restricted to setting the standards and requesting information in order to measure performance against the standards. To put that in context, the Audit Commission has no powers to enforce particular regulations on local authorities; it does it by example. The Electoral Commission feels that it has sufficient authority to raise standards among electoral registration officers.

16 Apr 2007 : Column 20

Constituency Boundaries

23. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): If his Committee will discuss with the Electoral Commission the effect of disparity in sizes of electorate on the constituency boundaries. [131444]

Peter Viggers: The Speaker’s Committee has no plans to do so. Responsibility for review of parliamentary constituency boundaries rests with the four parliamentary boundary commissioners, not the Electoral Commission.

Simon Hughes: Will the hon. Gentleman discuss with his colleagues on the Speaker’s Committee and the Electoral Commission the proposal that is on the agenda to bring under one umbrella somewhere the review of all the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies for Westminster in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, in order to ensure that whatever way people vote and whatever constituency they are in, the same criteria apply across the country, and above all that votes are worth the same because the constituency quota is the same whether in Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland?

Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission has no direct role in relation to parliamentary constituency boundaries. As to how the review might be carried forward, the last review was carried through by Parliament itself. The Electoral Commission has no opinion as to whether it should be responsible for the review. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the Committee on Standards in Public Life also expressed a view on this issue.

Church Commissioners

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

Parish Interregnums

24. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): How many parishes had interregnums of more than three months last year. [131445]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): The information is not held centrally.

Chris Bryant: It is a shame that the figure is not available, because we should know how many interregnums last for a substantial period during which many churchwardens and ordinary clergy are happy to take up the slack in parishes around the country. Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the many clergy and churchwardens who are not only doing a fabulous job in their own parish but covering for others when there are prolonged periods without clergy in other parishes nearby?

Sir Stuart Bell: Of course, we pay respect and homage to all those within the Church who do their job and do their duty, certainly as regards the case that my hon. Friend mentions. I would point out to him that
16 Apr 2007 : Column 21
churches often find that a period of interregnum results in the congregation becoming more vibrant as greater numbers of parishioners participate. However, his point is well taken.

Next Section Index Home Page