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We know that we need thousands more electricians, plumbers, bricklayers and many others. What progress is being made to implement the necessary training to ensure that we have sufficient people with the relevant skills, so that we are not later held to ransom by unscrupulous contractors?

Tessa Jowell: The right hon. Gentleman has identified an important point. One aspect of the legacy that we intend for the Olympic games, quite apart from the success in building the games on budget and to time, is to change that part of London, which is characterised by local people as having very low levels of skill and therefore high levels of unemployment. Local people will have skills as a result of the job opportunities created by the Olympics. A large number of initiatives are already under way, led by the Mayor and the Learning and Skills Council, in order to develop the skilled work force that the Olympics will require in every single respect, with a particular emphasis on increasing the skills of people through, for instance, the pre-volunteer programme. That will enable us to achieve two things: first, we will achieve a higher level of skill in east London; secondly, we will ensure that the skill match between people’s skills when they look for work and the skills needed by the Olympics means that the Olympic park is constructed to budget and to time.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): The London-Tilbury-Southend line franchise of c2c terminates or is renewable before the Olympics. Will the Minister tell us what she intends to do to ensure that that line receives the appropriate investment to make it welcoming and to maximise mobility in and around the Olympics? What will happen?

Tessa Jowell: I am happy to examine the extent to which that line will serve the Olympic park. The Olympic park and the area around Stratford will benefit from an unprecedented level of investment in new transport infrastructure, with 10 new rail services and other public transport links, including, of course, the channel tunnel rail link, which will be an important part of the infrastructure. Much of that major investment is specifically because of the Olympic games, and I will write to my hon. Friend about the point that he has raised.

Departmental Reorganisation

21. Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): How she expects the recent departmental reorganisation to affect the delivery of London 2012; and if she will make a statement. [151115]

Tessa Jowell: As I have said, with five years to go, the Olympic programme now moves into the next phase of delivery. It will require intense ministerial oversight and scrutiny of the building programme, as well as an increased focus to ensure that the resources of the
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whole of Government are mobilised and focused on delivering on the five legacy promises that were announced last month. These games are arguably the most ambitious in terms of legacy—a point commented on by the International Olympic Committee, which said that the legacy ambition of the London Olympics would serve as a model for future games. That is why it is important to have a dedicated Minister for the Olympics and why I am delighted to be that Minister.

Mr. Vara: I congratulate the Minister on her new appointment and thank her for her kind reply. A recent Public Accounts Committee report said that it was important that her Department had a plan of

Does she share the concern of many people that the reorganisation in her Department has blurred the lines of responsibility, and what does she propose to do to allay those fears?

Tessa Jowell: I do not accept the fears that lie behind a perfectly legitimate question. The important thing is to set out clearly the facts and how the divisions of responsibilities will work. I am responsible in Government for the Olympic games. There is a large level of public investment—62 per cent. of the overall provided-for budget will come from the Exchequer—and it is important that that is properly safeguarded. The division of responsibilities is clearly established and was set out last week in a written answer. We have very much followed the precedent of other successful cities in ensuring proper Government engagement at the proper level of ministerial oversight.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): First, I welcome my right hon. Friend to her renewed responsibility for the Olympics. Whatever the framework within the Department, which rightly has to oversee the project, it is crucial to recognise that she has, in the Olympic Delivery Authority and in the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, absolutely first-class teams of professionals who are well capable of delivering an exemplary Olympics. Will she ensure that they are allowed to get on with the job so that we are the success that most international commentators believe that we are, and will she not be swayed by the frankly unfocused and sometimes rather outdated criticisms that we hear from the Opposition and from certain quarters in this building?

Tessa Jowell: I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. It is entirely legitimate to question and challenge the progress of the Olympic games, but it would not be right for people to lack confidence in the team in place at the ODA, who are widely recognised as world class. Unlike many of the armchair commentators and more sceptical contributors to the debate, they have built towns and cities, whereas those armchair commentators have probably not even built a garden shed.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): I was about to start by welcoming the right hon. Lady back to her old job in the new Ministry. As she is aware, the Olympics enjoy cross-party support, and we wish her well. However, may I take her back to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara)? Could she explain to the House, very simply, why the Government think that it
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is more efficient to put the budget holders and civil servants in one Department and the Minister in another than to put them all in the same Department together?

Tessa Jowell: We think so for two reasons. First, realisation of legacy is absolutely critical to the wider responsibility of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and secondly, it is one of the aspects of the Olympic bid that defined our programme as being different and more ambitious, whether in relation to the scale of the cultural Olympiad or, as mentioned in earlier exchanges, the sporting legacy.

It is not just a matter, as most countries recognise, of becoming a world-class sporting nation in terms of elite performance, but in terms of participation and of sport in schools. Those arrangements are within the custody and oversight of the DCMS, but there is a further aspect to the legacy ambition that relates to transport and other infrastructure. There are issues relating to security and the use of health services during the games. That dual reach—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must stop the Minister. Thank you.

Public Accounts Commission

The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—

Comptroller and Auditor General

27. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What progress has been made in developing the new system for overseeing the expenses incurred by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the performance of his duties. [151088]

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): The Public Accounts Commission met on 11 July and agreed a system of oversight for expenses incurred by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the discharge of his functions. The new arrangements are set out in the Commission’s 13th report.

David Taylor: While I and other Members from the east midlands were on a nightmare journey to Westminster via a Midland Mainline train with standing room only, and King’s Cross-St. Pancras station was closed, the head of the National Audit Office was purring from home to work by chauffeur-driven car at the public expense, using a perk that is not even recorded in NAO accounts. Can the feisty Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee get a grip on this flagrant exploitation of the public purse by the Comptroller and Auditor General; otherwise, Sir John really will think that in this Government, there is one born every minute.

Mr. Leigh: I do not think that those remarks do the hon. Gentleman, who is Parliamentarian, or should I say Back Bencher, of the year any credit. The fact is that Sir John Bourn has done an outstanding job in Parliament on behalf of the taxpayer for many years. It
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is also important that we preserve the independence of the National Audit Office. The car referred to by the hon. Gentleman is provided by the NAO for its work, and it is used by the Comptroller and Auditor General for that purpose. As he well knows, the Commission, in the light of recent public concern, has put a transparent system in place, by which an external auditor—the chairman of the NAO audit committee—will be briefed in advance on planned expenses. He will discuss them with the Comptroller and Auditor General, and if necessary, with the Chairman of the Commission. These expenses, in turn, can be discussed in public with the Commission. I believe that we have a transparent system.

Church Commissioners

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


28. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What the average stipend for clergymen in rural parishes was on 1 July (a) 1997 and (b) 2007; and if he will make a statement. [151089]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): The average stipend for incumbents in rural and urban parishes alike was £14,510 at 1 July 1997, and is projected to stand at £21,060 at 1 July 2007. By way of a statement, we agree with the hon. Lady’s view that parish churches and their congregations are at the heart of rural life. That is why we seek to appoint appropriately remunerated stipendiary priests where possible.

Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that answer. Has the average stipend kept up with the cost of living? Moreover, will he take away from this afternoon’s exchange that we hold in the highest regard those rural clergymen who are serving a record number of parishes each Sunday? In times of crisis, such as the current flood emergency, and also during the recent BSE disaster, they work beyond the call of duty, which should be recognised.

Sir Stuart Bell: The hon. Lady has often expressed her frustration at the difficulty that rural parishes sometimes have in attracting stipendiary priests. I commend her for continuing to put that point of view, and also for drawing the attention of the House to the work of priests in flood areas.

In response to the hon. Lady’s more technical question on the cost of living, I should point out that the national stipends benchmark for 2007-08 is £20,980. This was an increase of 2.5 per cent. on the previous year’s benchmark, compared with a projected increase in average earnings of 4.3 per cent. for the year. As the hon. Lady will know, the stipend forms only part of the remuneration package of the parish priest.

Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend believe that there should be a rate for the job in such appointments, and does he have any figures about whether female incumbents receive the same as male incumbents?

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Sir Stuart Bell: My hon. Friend may like to know that stipends are fixed each year by the Central Stipends Authority, after careful consideration with dioceses, and the figures reflect what the dioceses can afford. The idea is that stipends should be adequate to enable clergy to discharge their duties without financial anxiety, flexible enough to allow the Church to put clergy where they are best deployed, and equitable to avoid impeding clergy mobility. That applies to male and female clergy.

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Fixed-term Parliaments

29. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What recent discussions the Electoral Commission has held on fixed-term Parliaments. [151090]

Peter Viggers (Gosport): The Electoral Commission advises me that it has not held any recent discussions on fixed-term Parliaments.

Mr. Bone: That is rather disappointing. Former Prime Minister Blair promised the electorate in 2005 that if he was re-elected he would serve for a full term. The current Prime Minister has not called a general election, despite that promise. Would it not be appropriate to note that, with a fixed-term Parliament, that sort of political deception could not occur?

Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission recognises that other elected bodies, including local government, the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, are elected for fixed terms. However, the commission believes that the question whether fixed terms should be introduced for the House of Commons is a matter for the Government of the day, and, ultimately, Parliament, to decide. It would not be appropriate for me to reply on behalf of the Speaker’s Committee to my hon. Friend’s specific point.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Many of us believe that the case for a fixed-term Parliament, rather than reliance on the whim of a Prime Minister, is unanswerable, but I doubt very much whether it is a matter for the Electoral Commission rather than the political system. There is, however, a desperate need for the Electoral Commission to be strengthened so that it can perform a much stronger regulatory and monitoring role. Is that transition to a stronger role now well in hand?

Peter Viggers: Yes, there has been change in emphasis in the Electoral Commission, which is reflected in the corporate plan for 2007-08, which was laid before the House of Commons in May 2007. The report stated

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Thus there has been an evolution in the role of the commission.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): As the new Prime Minister has indicated that he would not want to go to the country without consulting Parliament—he made that very plain as one of his first utterances in the post—would it be appropriate for the commission to initiate a dialogue on the desirability of fixed terms, as there are many, on both sides of the House, who believe that they are a sensible solution?

Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission does not believe that that is an appropriate matter for it to become involved in, but I have no doubt that the points made by my hon. Friend will have been heard at the commission, as indeed they will have been heard by the Government.

List Votes (Disregards)

30. Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): What steps the Electoral Commission is taking to assess the effect on voter turnout of the disregarding of list votes cast for candidates elected in constituencies in the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales. [151091]

Peter Viggers: The commission informs me that it is taking no such steps.

Ian Lucas: That is very unfortunate, because when I cast my vote for the Labour party in the north Wales regional list at the National Assembly elections, that vote has no consequence, as it is not counted; it does not result in the meaningful casting of a vote on my part. It is irrelevant for me to take the action of voting, and in my view the commission should look at the issue to decide whether there is a disincentive for individuals to vote. Is not that exactly what the Electoral Commission should look at?

Peter Viggers: The additional Member system was introduced, for the Welsh Assembly elections, the Scottish Parliament elections, and elections to the Greater London Authority, by Parliament at the
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initiative of the Government in 1999. It includes the D’Hondt system of alternative counting, on which I have made myself an expert in advance of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but the commission takes the view that it would not be appropriate for it to make an assessment of the merits of different electoral systems. It believes that that is Parliament’s role.

Church Commissioners

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


32. Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): What the policy of the Church Commissioners is on broadcasts from cathedrals and churches; and if he will make a statement. [151093]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): The commissioners themselves do not have such a policy. However, by way of a statement, church buildings play a central part in the community and the Church welcomes the wide range of uses to which its buildings are put, as long as they are not contrary to its teaching and do not conflict with its mission.

Mark Pritchard: I understand that the General Synod debated the issue two years ago, but there is no agreed policy on how church buildings, particularly cathedrals, can and should be used for film making and other types of broadcasting. Given the recent controversies about the use of church buildings and places of worship, is it not time that the Synod set down an agreed policy?

Sir Stuart Bell: The Synod has just met and will hold its next meeting later in the year. I shall be happy to put the hon. Gentleman’s point to its representatives, but I am sure that he will agree that, whether on television, radio or the internet, regular broadcasts from churches and cathedrals allow a wider audience to keep in touch with one of the treasures of our national life, particularly at times of national joy or grief. Many come together through the broadcast of special services.

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