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21 May 2007 : Column 971

Regional Casino

8. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): If she will make a statement on the recommendation for the location of the regional casino. [137933]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): The House will recall that the vote on the relevant order was carried in the House of Commons and lost by a small margin of three votes in the House of Lords. The order dealt with the location of the 17 casinos. Following the vote in the House of Lords, Ministers are considering how to proceed, and we will make an announcement in due course.

Mr. Mackay: Presumably, the Secretary of State now regrets not taking our advice and failing to decouple the 16 small casinos from the super-casino. Will she put that right by bringing forth an order and legislation so that we can proceed with the 16 smaller casinos, which are largely uncontroversial?

Tessa Jowell: Like every self-reflecting Member, I have regrets, but I do not think that I have any regrets about advice that I have failed to take from the Opposition, particularly on an issue which, within the presumption of public protection, will create more than 7,000 jobs, many of which are in deprived areas, and bring hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of investment, but was the subject of nothing less than party political shenanigans by the Opposition—a cynical move. We will return in due course and inform the House of our proposals to take this forward.

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): Professor Crow’s recommendation was unambiguous, as was the decision by the House on those matters. Is not the only question before us when the House can impose its will on the other place?

Tessa Jowell: I note my hon. Friend’s support for Professor Crow’s recommendation. As I have made clear, and as he knows, we will bring forward proposals in due course

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): Will the Secretary of State say what “shortly” means? It sounds a bit like “in due course”, with an unknown length of time ahead. However, it appears that the retiring Prime Minister wants two regional casinos, while the right hon. Lady wants one, and the Prime Minister-in-waiting wants none at all. Will she put an end to the chaos and confusion and confirm that we will have only one regional casino, and that no more will be considered until we see its social and economic impact in the three years after it opens?

Tessa Jowell: I have made the Government’s position clear: consistent with our policy of public protection, there will be one regional casino during this Parliament. No others will be considered until that experience has been evaluated properly. There is no mess or confusion, except what is due to the unsuccessful attempts of the Opposition.

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church commissioners

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

Smoking Policy

18. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): What the Commissioners’ policy is on smoking in properties for which they are responsible. [137945]

22. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): What preparations the Church Commissioners have made for the coming into force of the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces with respect to cathedrals. [137949]

24. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What advice the Commissioners are giving to cathedral deans in England with respect to the enforcement of no smoking laws from 1 July 2007; and if he will make a statement. [137951]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): Smoking in places of worship has never been acceptable. Policies for many other Church properties, from offices through to schools and church halls, vary, although many, including the national Church offices, are already smoke free. By way of a statement, guidance about the new provisions is being discussed with the Department of Health and will be promulgated as widely as possible, including to cathedral deans

Mr. Prentice: But we are only a few weeks away from the smoking ban coming in, so would it not be absolute lunacy to require cathedrals and churches to affix no smoking signs to their doors?

Sir Stuart Bell: I agree with my hon. Friend. His original question had to do with the Commission’s offices, and I can tell him that the national Church institutions have had a no smoking policy in place since 2000. They have updated the policy recently, to comply fully with the Health Act 2006.

Mr. Swayne: I speak with some feeling, as a man whose wedding photograph is marred by the fact that an exit sign on the ancient church door appears between my wife and myself. Will the hon. Gentleman resist the regulations vigorously? It would be ironic indeed if we were to give way on this matter as, when the members of the council of my parish church applied for permission to put up a plaque containing the 10 commandments, they were told to get lost.

Sir Stuart Bell: I certainly agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman. I am glad that his marriage is steadfast, notwithstanding the exit sign. I also agree with the Dean of Southwark that it would not be sensible to place no smoking signs on a beautiful Norman doorway that has been locked closed for 500 years. Discussions on the matters are taking place with the Department of Health, which I believe is taking a reasonable approach to signage.

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Michael Fabricant: I was somewhat alarmed to hear the hon. Gentleman say that all smoking was banned, as I presume that incense is not covered. I support the smoking ban in general, and voted for it but, if he is right and we have to have signs, does he agree that they could be Gothic, with twirly whirly bits, or Norman? Signs like that would fit in more appropriately with beautiful cathedrals such as the one in Lichfield.

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The House will be pleased to know that the Government’s signage policy will be reviewed in the next three years. In the meantime, I anticipate that we will see Gothic signs, if nothing else.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The hon. Gentleman has got the idea that there is general outrage among anybody who has an interest in cathedrals. I have the privilege to represent two and I used to sing in another. I hope that he will tell the relevant Ministers that, if it is required, all parties should be absolutely willing to agree a very quick change in the regulations so that things can be absolutely clear before D-day and so that we have no stupid notices on buildings that have not needed them for the last 1,000 years.

Sir Stuart Bell: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. The point that he made about regulations is interesting and I will put it to the Department of Health, but we require local authorities to be sensible in their approach and, as of this moment in time, we have no reason to believe that they will be otherwise.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Have the nincompoops who have insisted upon these signs also asked for them to be put up in crematoriums?

Sir Stuart Bell: If we are moving from churches to crematoriums, the hell fires are getting very close, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the lighted cigarette in our churches and cathedrals will not be the beginning of those hell fires.

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Scottish Parliamentary Elections

19. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): If he will make a statement on the Electoral Commission's review of the Scottish parliamentary elections. [137946]

21. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): What reviews the commission is undertaking of the recent elections to the Scottish Parliament. [137948]

Peter Viggers (Gosport): The Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to report on the Scottish parliamentary elections. Following a request by the Scottish Executive, it will also report on the local
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government elections in Scotland. The commission has appointed an international specialist in electoral administration, Mr. Ron Gould, to lead a review of the elections. It announced the broad scope of the review on 14 May and further details are being announced today. I have asked the commission to place details of the approach and the timetable in the Library of the House.

Mr. Mackay: My hon. Friend will be aware that I have little faith in the Electoral Commission and think that it gets into all sorts of areas that it should not, but surely if there is any point at all in the commission it must sort out the debacle in Scotland, which was more characteristic of a banana republic. Can we have assurances that the report will be robust and quick?

Peter Viggers: Indeed. Mr. Ron Gould’s report will be independent and it will be published in full. He has been asked to look at all aspects of the elections, but with a particular focus on the high number of rejected ballots, the electronic counting process, the arrangements for postal voting, the decision to hold parliamentary and local government polls on the same day, the decision to combine the two parliamentary votes on one ballot sheet, the process by which key decisions were made and the role of the Electoral Commission itself in the preparation of the elections.

Andrew Rosindell: Bearing in mind the fact that the Electoral Commission bears much of the responsibility for the fiasco in Scotland, should there not be a fully independent inquiry, in which the Electoral Commission plays no part, so that we can get to the root of what happened, rather than having the same people making the same decisions and looking into the same issue?

Peter Viggers: It is true that Parliament has laid on the Electoral Commission two specific sets of responsibilities: one is to assist in the electoral process and advise returning officers, and the other is to report on elections. When the Electoral Commission makes a report and it has itself been involved in the matter in an operational role, it is always its practice to appoint an outside expert to advise on that so that its own role can also be scrutinised.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): In the long list of things that the Electoral Commission will look into with regard to the Scottish elections, the hon. Gentleman did not mention proxy voting. He mentioned postal voting and there were problems with that, but in my constituency, where I have a large a number of constituents who work offshore, it has become increasingly clear that those people applied for postal votes when they should have been encouraged to apply for proxy votes. There was little information or publicity about proxy votes versus postal votes, and the importance of a proxy vote for those who were going to be away from home for some time before the election.

Peter Viggers: It is quite true that the issue of proxy voting was not in the list that I gave to the House. However, Mr. Gould will be instructed to look at all aspects of the elections and I will undertake to ensure that the hon. Lady’s point is drawn to his attention.

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Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): The Electoral Reform Society has claimed that the Scottish local government elections, in which as many as 45,000 people may have been disfranchised, were a “resounding success”. Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that, whatever form the report from the Electoral Commission takes, it contains a good deal more intellectual rigour than that report?

Peter Viggers: I have looked at Mr. Gould’s curriculum vitae. He has an exceptional record of supervising, or assisting at, more than 100 elections in 70 different countries. I am confident that he will produce a rigorous report. Of course, it is the Electoral Commission’s statutory duty to report. Mr. Gould’s review will inform the Electoral Commission’s report.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will my hon. Friend encourage Mr. Gould in particular to examine carefully the security of the postal vote system and to make urgent recommendations on how we can prevent its misuse?

Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission has gone on record as saying that it would prefer to have individual registration, which it thinks would assist in tightening the postal voting system. However, I will ensure that Mr. Gould’s attention is drawn to the specific point raised by my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Because two different voting systems were to be used, the Arbuthnott report recommended that the Scottish local and parliamentary elections should not take place on the same day. It said that that would reduce complexity and confusion and restrict the number of invalid ballot papers, yet the Labour party chose to blunder on, which led to many thousands losing their votes. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Electoral Commission’s report will investigate how that could have happened and exactly who was responsible?

Peter Viggers: It really is disconcerting that many of the problems that arose on 3 May were not only foreseeable, but foreseen. In 2004, the then Secretary of State for Scotland set up the Arbuthnott commission to examine the problems arising from having four separate voting systems in Scotland. My hon. Friend is correct that the commission recommended that the parliamentary and local elections should not be held on the same day. The decision that they should be held on the same day was taken by the Scottish Executive.

Church Commissioners

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

Investment Policy

20. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): When the Church Commissioners last met Christian Aid to discuss the commissioners’ investment policies. [137947]

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The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): We have had no such meetings. Were we to meet, I would be happy to advise that the investment policies of the commissioners mean that our fund is now worth £5 billion. That is an increase of £2 billion over the past 10 years, which is coincident with my 10 years as Second Church Estates Commissioner.

Hugh Bayley: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his contribution to the good state of the Church’s finances.

In Christian Aid week, which was last week, Church members raised millions of pounds to fight global poverty. Christian Aid uses some of that money to campaign against companies that undermine development, or exploit workers or the environment in developing countries. Does not my hon. Friend think that it would be sensible for the Church Commissioners to meet another wing of the Church—Christian Aid—to ensure that their investments are not placed with companies that undermine development and the good work that Christian Aid members support through each year’s Christian Aid week?

Sir Stuart Bell: We in the Church admire Christian Aid’s energy as it campaigns on a wide range of issues—from Darfur to the effects of climate change—and the work that was done last week. As my hon. Friend is aware, the commissioners’ investment policy is a matter for them. However, I have no difficulty in meeting Christian Aid in the non-too-distant future.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Some time ago, the Church used to have substantial investments in property, such as the MetroCentre in Gateshead. Will the hon. Gentleman advise the House of the ratio of property and share equity investments? Who advises the Church on those investments?

Sir Stuart Bell: Off the top of my head, I believe that 25 per cent. of our assets is in real estate, while the remaining 75 per cent. is in worldwide stocks and shares.

Clergy Stipends

23. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What proportion of clergy stipends are met by the Church Commissioners. [137950]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): In 2006-07, the commissioners provided about 17.4 per cent. of the total stipends bill for all clergy and licensed lay workers on the central payroll. That compares with 15 per cent. in 2001.

Tony Baldry: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is sometimes a perception that the Church of England is a bit like the NHS: free at the point of use for taxpayers? In reality, those of us who believe in the Church of England are happy and willing to support the clergy and realise that a free service will not be provided by the Church Commissioners. Although this is an established Church, there must be recognition of the fact that it still needs the support of those who regularly worship in Anglican churches and cathedrals.

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Sir Stuart Bell: My hon. Friend is right. In relation to the Church’s income, not a penny comes from the state, yet the Church costs about £1 billion a year to run. In relation to the stipends, £34.3 million comes from the Church. The rest comes from dioceses and parishes. We welcome their efforts and we are grateful to them. They make a significant contribution to the work of the Church of England.

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