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T3. [273181] Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Many of my constituents work at the IBC van factory in Luton, which makes the outstandingly successful Vivaro van, or at Vauxhall’s headquarters in Luton. They are understandably concerned for the
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future of their jobs, given the merger talks that are being discussed. Given the Government’s support for the LDV factory earlier in the week, what assurances can the Minister give that the Government will do everything in their power to ensure the continuation of the plant and the headquarters?

Ian Pearson: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will do everything we can to support the restructuring of GM Europe as a viable business for the future. Through the Luton van plant, through the facility at Ellesmere Port and through the Millbrook testing ground, GM is important to the UK economy. I must point out that Vauxhall is important to Opel and GM Europe too, as it accounts for about 25 per cent. of the company’s sales. There is no doubt in my mind that we need to continue the discussions that we are having with GM at a variety of levels and with the German Government, who have been approached for funding too. I assure him that those discussions are continuing.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): It will soon be three years since the collapse of Farepak, the Christmas hamper company, yet its directors still have not been brought to account. They were due to be in the civil courts earlier this year, but that did not happen. In recognition of how Farepak’s collapse destroyed the Christmases of tens of thousands of decent, hard-working families throughout the United Kingdom, will the Minister facilitate a meeting between the liquidators and MPs from all parts of the House who have concerns about this collapse?

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend will know from previous conversations that he and I have had, as well as from exchanges on the Floor of the House, that the Government recognise the considerable anger of many of those who suffered as a result of the collapse of Farepak and the concern that has been articulated to Members of Parliament. I recognise, too, the strong campaigning work that he and a number of my hon. Friends have done on the issue. He will recognise that there are some things that I cannot say on the Floor of the House. He has asked me a specific question. I will reflect on the answer and come back to him.

T4. [273182] Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): The economy is contracting at the fastest rate in 30 years, yet the Government say that in 2011 the economy will grow at the same accelerated rate as they say it is currently contracting. Does the Minister really believe that British business can rely on the Government’s growth figures, either now or going forward?

Ian Pearson: We published our growth forecasts in Budget ’09 and we stand by them. As with any forecasts, they are built on the best available evidence at the time. We believe that growth will start to return to the UK economy around the end of this year. I am sure that everybody will welcome that. As for the growth forecasts to 2011 and beyond, it is important to recognise that there is potential capacity in the UK economy as we move out of recession. Through the measures that we have introduced as a Government, such as the fiscal stimulus and the strategic investment fund, which is supporting industry directly, and our competitive exchange
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rate in the UK, I believe that there are strong opportunities for the UK to power out of the recession and achieve the growth rates that the hon. Gentleman talked about and that are in the Government’s forecasts.

T5. [273183] Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): The Minister will have seen the reported comments of his ministerial colleague Lord Carter last month. He estimates that between 25 and 30 per cent. of the country will not be able to get next generation broadband if it is left to a purely economic case. I have a sneaking suspicion that if those figures are right, the communities in Orkney and Shetland will be in that 25 to 30 per cent. What actions does the Minister propose taking to ensure that we are not left playing catch-up yet again?

Mr. Thomas: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will commend the work that Lord Carter and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have been doing in looking at the issues in “Digital Britain”. The first piece of work looking at the issues has been published, but further work will be done. The hon. Gentleman’s comments about the needs of his constituency, given its remoteness, will of course be taken on board as part of that.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Although I strongly agree with what my hon. Friend said earlier about the importance of not trying to conduct detailed negotiations with Jaguar Land Rover through the media, will he reflect on some of the principles involved? The first is that if large amounts of taxpayers’ money is to be devoted to reducing the risks for other investors or giving them guarantees, it is reasonable to have mechanisms for monitoring the risk to that taxpayers’ money. However, the objective should be to enable that investment to go ahead, rather than getting in the way of it.

Ian Pearson: We want the talks with Jaguar Land Rover to be brought to a successful conclusion to ensure that the company’s short and medium-term financing needs are met. The company has said that it is unaware of any breakdown in talks, stating:

The talks certainly are ongoing. My hon. Friend is right to point out that we are talking about investing taxpayers’ money, whether that be through the guarantee to the European Investment Bank or other funding. It is right that we ensure the due diligence that one would expect to ensure value for money for the taxpayer.

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Polling Day

1. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What guidance the Electoral Commission has issued to returning officers on steps to be taken in circumstances where the date of a polling day is changed after it has been announced. [273149]

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Sir Peter Viggers (Gosport): The Electoral Commission informs me that it has not issued such guidance to returning officers. Any change to the date of a polling day would require legislation.

Mr. Bone: I thank my hon. Friend for that response, but does he share my concern about what would happen if the swine flu pandemic were to escalate and hundreds of thousands of people were to be ill on 4 June? How could the elections possibly continue in such circumstances?

Sir Peter Viggers: My hon. Friend is on to a potentially important point. The commission advises me that it is in regular contact with the Ministry of Justice on this issue and will keep the situation under review. The commission will consider issuing guidance, possibly in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, if and when appropriate. Moreover, the commission has issued general guidance to returning officers that emphasises the importance of ensuring that they have general mechanisms in place to identify and manage risks and to develop contingency plans for dealing with such situations if they materialise.


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

Cathedral Chapters (Human Resources)

2. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What advice services are available to cathedral chapters on human resources matters affecting senior employees. [273150]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): The Church Commissioners do not provide any such advice to cathedral chapters; nor do they provide funding specifically for this purpose. It is for each chapter to determine what human resources it requires. The Church welcomes the announcement by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in January that employers will get a one-stop shop for guidance on employment legislation. We expect that cathedral chapters, like other employers, will find that helpful.

Michael Fabricant: I am rather disappointed by that answer. It would be helpful to cathedral chapters if advice were available on how to recruit senior members of staff such as chief executives. The hon. Gentleman might be aware that there have recently been problems in a number of cathedrals over the appointment of senior staff and, when those appointments have not worked out, over the subsequent dismissal of those members of staff. Surely the commission could be more proactive in giving advice in that area.

Sir Stuart Bell: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be encouraged by the fact that the number of dioceses employing human resources advisers is increasing following the passage of the Ecclesiastical Officers (Terms of Service) Measure 2009, which was passed by both Houses of Parliament and given Royal Assent earlier this year. Those advisers may give advice to cathedrals, but it is up to each diocesan board of finance to determine the
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area of responsibility covered by its human resources advisers. Unfortunately, the commissioners’ remit does not go as far as the hon. Gentleman would wish.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): On the human resources department’s page on the Church of England’s website, the first stated objective refers to the

How can we allow a position in which we constantly experience delays in relation to women bishops? We cannot have a fair and just workplace when really talented women who could successfully fill those jobs are being denied the opportunity to do so, and it is certainly not a diverse work force when we have an all-male bishopric.

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for keeping the question of women bishops in the public limelight, and certainly in the limelight of the House of Commons. As I have said many times:

The Synod is making progress on this issue and, while it might be a matter of regret that the House will not be able to vote on the concept of women bishops in this Parliament, I am sure the matter will come before the next Parliament.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): I declare an interest as a lay canon of Salisbury cathedral. Will the hon. Gentleman consider the trailblazing approach adopted by the cathedral, which has 80 full-time employees and 600 volunteers? It employs a fully qualified full-time human resources manager, who also advises Sarum college, the cathedral school and the diocese of Salisbury, which in turn share human resources management across the region with other deans and chapters. This means that, together, they have a completely professional approach to the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant).

Sir Stuart Bell: As a canon, the hon. Gentleman will know that he is an office holder, not an employee, so he will not be covered by this aspect of the legislation. He has made an important, encouraging point, and I think that that approach is reflected in cathedrals up and down the land. I am sure that the hon. Member for Lichfield will find that his cathedral is also benefiting from the legislation and the announcement by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Electoral Registration

3. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What steps the Electoral Commission has taken to increase levels of electoral registration among non-UK EU nationals resident in the UK to enable them to vote in elections for the European Parliament. [273151]

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Sir Peter Viggers (Gosport): The Electoral Commission informs me that its public awareness campaign for the June 2009 elections includes online, radio and press advertising targeted specifically at EU nationals, explaining who is eligible to register to vote and how to register.

Simon Hughes: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his answer and for that information, but I hope he will pass on the message that, given that we are only four weeks today from the European Parliament elections, there is not as much publicity as there should be to ensure the maximum turnout that I am sure we all want. Will he pass on the request that serious efforts be made over the next week or so, so that EU citizens—whether foreigners in Britain or Britons abroad—can participate in ensuring that the next European Parliament will be the most representative ever?

Sir Peter Viggers: Indeed, the Electoral Commission seeks to encourage registration. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are two phases: the first is registration for local elections, and the second requires a statement that the individual will not vote elsewhere in the European Union if he or she wishes to vote here. The hon. Gentleman may also be interested to know that the Electoral Commission does not actually have the number of the 961,681 overseas voters from the EU—excluding Cyprus, Malta and Ireland—who are registered for the European elections, but it intends to collect such numbers after the next election. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that the last date for registration for these elections is 19 May.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman has reminded the House that EU citizens have to fill in a statement sent to them by the electoral registration officer if they wish to vote in this year’s European elections. My understanding is that there is a vast disparity in different parts of the country about when those statements were sent out. In some places, they were sent out before Christmas; in others, they were sent out only in the last couple of weeks. Given that vast disparity and in order to ensure fairness across the country, will the hon. Gentleman suggest to the Electoral Commission that it needs a very urgent advertising campaign to ensure that statement forms are returned before the qualifying date so that people are not disfranchised as a result of slow procedures by some local authority registration officers?

Sir Peter Viggers: Electoral registration officers have no specific statutory duty to seek out such citizens for this purpose. However, the commission informs me that it has recently issued guidance to administrators, suggesting that they send a European Parliament registration and declaration form to those citizens registered for local elections.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What is the Electoral Commission’s assessment of the extent to which EU citizens in this country are wrongly registered as British voters?

Sir Peter Viggers: Almost by definition, the Electoral Commission does not possess such numbers, but in view of my hon. Friend’s question, I will raise it with the Electoral Commission and write to him with the answer.

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Church Commissioners

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

Agricultural Land Holdings

6. Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): What the Church Commissioners’ policy is on their agricultural land holdings. [273155]

Sir Stuart Bell: The commissioners aim for the best possible total return from all their assets, not just from the rural portfolio, within an acceptable level of risk and in accordance with their ethical investment policy.

Mr. Gibb: According to the secretary of the Church Commissioners, the primary objective is to make money. To that end, to the shock and horror of the people of Bognor Regis, the commissioners intend to concrete over 300 acres of beautiful and highly productive agricultural land to the west of Pagham and Bersted in my constituency. The commissioners have also attempted to triple the rents of tenant farmers in the area. Given that the Church Commissioners own the third largest holding of agricultural land in the country, is it not time that this land was put in the hands of a body that has the objective of looking after the countryside and encouraging the production of home-grown food rather than leaving the land at the mercy of an organisation that—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We are already running behind time.

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful for your protection, Mr. Speaker; that was a statement, not a question. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the fact that the commissioners have gone to great lengths to meet and talk to him. He met the secretary, for example, and also representatives of our department that deals with agriculture. The commissioners are always happy to meet Members of Parliament and to discuss issues with them, recognising that they have constituency interests, so it is perfectly proper for the hon. Gentleman to raise this matter. I should add, however, that the commissioners
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have a legal and moral obligation to their beneficiaries. They aim to hold financial and ethical issues together and I, for one, think that they manage that balance rather well, but they are certainly not willing to ignore their fiduciary duty to obtain the best possible long-term return from their assets, even in the face of the occasional protest.

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act

7. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): What progress the Electoral Commission has made on ensuring that constituency accounting units are complying with the provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. [273156]

Sir Peter Viggers (Gosport): In addition to its routine analysis, the commission wrote to all accounting units in March 2009, reminding them of their responsibilities regarding the filing of annual statements of accounts under the 2000 Act.

Mr. Hands: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he share my concern that the Prime Minister’s constituency Labour party appears to have submitted no constituency accounts to the Electoral Commission since 2006?

Sir Peter Viggers: That specific point will, of course, be drawn to the Electoral Commission’s attention. Generally, the commission will review the statement of accounts submitted at the end of April 2009, and will assess which accounting unit should be contacted to confirm compliance with the reporting requirement for 2008. Its general philosophy has been to allow accounting units to learn how the system works, and gradually to tighten disciplinary procedures. That is the procedure it will follow in the case in question.

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