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4.35 pm

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): As a member of the Procedure Committee, I follow its Chairman in welcoming the fact that the Government have laid this motion before us today. I welcome this opportunity for the House to endorse, as I hope it will, the Committee's proposals, enabling it to continue to examine the ways in which we can make a reality of the election of Deputy Speakers, following and building on the considerable success of the House's new procedures for the election of the Speaker.

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In response to the comments of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), I re-emphasise that a number of rather difficult matters of detail remain before the Committee. It is important that we continue, as the Chairman said, to meet weekly to deal with those matters, and we hope to bring some satisfactory proposals before the House in the not too distant future.

Of course, this issue is not unrelated to those dealt with by the Wright Committee; indeed, the issue was before that Committee, which referred it to the Procedure Committee for its consideration. I hope the House has an early opportunity not only to debate the Wright Committee's recommendations, which need to be seen alongside those of the Procedure Committee, but to decide on them in a positive way.

4.36 pm

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, for explaining the difference between the two parts of this process. The House will want to agree the specifics of the preparation of detailed proposals for the election of Deputy Speakers, and he is right to draw our attention to the fact that his Committee will be considering the introduction of term limits. My view is that that will be difficult to achieve successfully. I can see why it is in the interests of the House for there to be a voluntary change of Speaker. It should be in the middle of a Parliament, although I can see why a Speaker might say that it would be more convenient for a term to end at the end of a Parliament, so that the change of Speaker does not cause a by-election. There may be a way of resolving that that the Committee could consider. Generally, it is better to trust people's judgment.

My second caution is that although the question of having what is called gender balance has arisen in the Committee, I see no reason why, if this House is two-thirds male and one-third female, for example, we should not have two female Deputy Speakers and only one male Deputy Speaker. I see no problem with that. It would not be gender balance; it would be the consequence of the way people were chosen-or, under these proposals, elected. My gentle suggestion for the Committee to consider is that the first man and the first woman with the greatest number of votes could become Deputy Speakers, and that the third Deputy Speaker be the other candidate with the greatest number of votes, whether they get more or less than one of the other two. There are various ways of dealing with the matter, but having a rigid balance, or rigid proportions, strikes me as unnecessary.

The other issue in my mind-besides recognising, as others have, the dedication of those who serve as Deputy Speakers and Chairman of Ways and Means-is that the House has been very lucky with those who have been prepared to hold those posts. Each of those positions is a position of service, rather than of ambition. That is one of the things that make this House rather endearing, and rather more effective than if all of us tried to go for such positions because we thought we needed the prominence.

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4.38 pm

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): I want to make just one brief point, which I hope will be listened to. We are accepting the principle of a more obvious democratic process-voting for Deputy Speakers-but I raise this one concern. It is difficult and dangerous to appear to be talking in this way about moving towards further democracy within the House, but I am concerned that the election of a Deputy Speaker could be used as a means of leverage-a means of punishment of, or expression of a lack of confidence in, a sitting Speaker. That is one possible danger.

Under the current process, although the appointment of Deputy Speakers is at the discretion of the House, they are very much part of a team. I can imagine that the stresses and strains of being part of a Speakership team are significant, and it is important not to get ourselves into a situation in which the House might elect a Deputy Speaker against the wishes of a Speaker with whom the House had fallen out.

Question put and agreed to.

Business without Debate

Regulatory reform

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 18(1)),


Badman Report (Maldon and East Chelmsford)

4.40 pm

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I wish to present a petition of behalf of Ms Katie Hiskett of Towers road, Heybridge and
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26 other residents of my constituency. My constituents are extremely concerned about the recommendations of the Badman report and the impact that they will have on them and on others who wish to educate their children at home. The terms of this petition are similar to those of others that have been presented by many colleagues in the House, so I shall not read out the entire wording of the petition and shall merely say that I share the concern and support the petition.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[ The Petition of persons resident in the Maldon and East Chelmsford parliamentary constituency,

Declares that they are concerned about the recommendations of the Badman Report, which suggests closer monitoring of home educators, including a compulsory annual registration scheme and right of access to people's homes for local authority officials; further declares that the Petitioners believe the recommendations are based on a review that was extremely rushed, failed to give due consideration to the evidence, failed to ensure that the data it collected were sufficiently robust, and failed to take proper account of the existing legislative framework.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families either not to bring forward, or to withdraw, proposed legislative measures providing for tighter registration and monitoring of children educated at home in the absence of a thorough independent inquiry into the condition and future of elective home education in England; but instead to take the steps necessary to ensure that the existing Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities are properly implemented, learning from current best practice, in all local authorities in England.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. ]


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Faith Buildings

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. -(Kerry McCarthy.)

4.41 pm

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate this important subject, which has been a pressing one for people in my constituency for many years. I have pursued it through a number of different avenues, so it was with a sense of frustration that I sought this Adjournment debate. I did so because of the troubling difficulties in obtaining faith buildings in Northampton to serve our multi-faith community. This is an issue not only for Northampton, because faith communities in other parts of the country face similar difficulties in accessing sites and, in particular, obtaining planning consent. A simple search on the internet reveals a host of different disputes about planning applications for mosques, temples and a variety of other faith buildings.

In some areas, lessons have been learned and there is some good practice. For example, in Birmingham there are proposals for needs assessments of faith communities in the city as part of regeneration work, and one borough in London has a unit to help faith communities to resolve their different issues in getting access to buildings in which to worship. However, I must tell the House that in Northampton faith communities have faced continuing difficulties in obtaining buildings in which to worship, despite the growth of those communities and the constructive role that they have played in our town for a good number of years.

The town contains a substantial and extremely diverse Muslim community; people from different parts of the world have settled in the town and played an enormously supportive and constructive role. That community is undertaking its own census, but it is thought that the population is about 5,000 strong and it is hemmed in to two small house mosques-a converted and listed house, which I believe was the town's first mosque, and a converted service station. Although that is being redeveloped in a constructive way, with classrooms and different community facilities, and it is doing a good job, it remains at heart just a service station. It is located on quite a busy street and good relations have been built up with the neighbours, but the parking and street access is not ideal.

The town also contains two substantial and successful Hindu communities. One has a planning application pending on a site for a multi-purpose building with community uses, which in the long run would include some nursery provision and sheltered housing. That would be a big addition to the disadvantaged local community but the planning application has run into difficulties, not least as objections have been made because bats apparently fly across the site.

There is also a small but very active Sikh community that has long since outgrown its premises, which are down a side street in quite a run-down part of town. It wanted to buy part of a former school site for a very inspiring multi-faith and community centre. The county council, which owns the site, would not deal with the community or with me, and referred the matter on to the estate agents, who, after initially saying that they did not have a mandate to subdivide the site, referred the
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matter on to the property developer who had by then bought the site, who put the price up to such an exorbitant level that the community felt that it could not really proceed. Given that the application from the Sikh community was very much in line with the needs of the wider community of the town and would also bring benefits to quite a disadvantaged area, the county council's actions were at least questionable under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

It has been very impressive to see the way in which the different communities-I have listed just a few of them and set out some of the problems that they have experienced-have been prepared to jump over all the hurdles that have been put in their way. They have been very constructive in engaging with the local authorities and the development corporation to try to promote good relations and a good understanding between all sections of society and to work for the common good. Some have also joined together to work on joint projects. All the plans that they have put forward that I have seen include making available significant resources for local communities. The proposals have been outward looking, not inward looking.

Some years ago, because of all the difficulties, I contacted a former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to ask for some duty to be put on local planning authorities to assess the needs of different faith communities when drawing up local plans for their areas. That was obviously particularly relevant for growth areas such as Northampton, which is part of the Milton Keynes and south midlands growth area. There is a real opportunity to get things right from the beginning in such communities by ensuring that there is an understanding of the needs of the existing community and of the areas from which people are likely to come into town, and that in the planning of an urban area proper provision is made for faith buildings that will meet the needs of a multi-faith society.

I was pointed in the direction of planning policy guidance note 12, which states that the diocesan board of the Church of England should be consulted about development plans and also refers to the needs of faith communities. As I recall, about half a sentence was devoted to the assessment of the needs of faith communities. This was the slightest reference that could conceivably have been given to faith communities-just enough to tick the "Done" box, but not enough to make any difference. Quite soon after that, PPG12 was replaced by planning policy statement 12, and any reference to faith communities completely disappeared. I have trawled through PPS12 several times and I have also asked the House of Commons Library to see whether it can find any reference in any of the planning guidance to the needs of faith communities. The Library says that it has not been able to find anything at all, and neither have I.

Some of the guidance in "Creating Strong, Safe and Prosperous Communities" says that faith groups should be key and respected partners of the local authority. That seems to me to be a way of paying lip service to the importance of faith communities without ensuring that they have the one thing that faith communities want-a place, with facilities, in which to worship.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. Will she allow me briefly to give some perceptions
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from Croydon, an authority which supports faith communities in finding premises? There are some good examples of the benefits of local authorities playing such a role. An attractive church in Croydon is now used by the Jain community. Unfortunately, there are also examples of important faith communities, which can build strong communities, not being well cared for. Black churches end up in industrial buildings or find themselves being heavily opposed, as happened in Bromley in the neighbouring constituency, when a black church moved into an old cinema in Upper Norwood. Finally, the Shi'a community in Croydon finds itself without any faith building. It is important to support the various Muslim communities in times of great stress within society and show how well we respect different faiths.

Ms Keeble: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's point. He illustrates why I sought this Adjournment debate. Society has changed substantially. With an established Church and a range of different faiths, we need to ensure that the needs of all the faiths are respected, not by providing handouts, but by making sure that difficult issues are managed properly, recognising that there are disputes between faiths sometimes and that there are different expressions of the same faith. We cannot say that there is one Muslim community so it needs only one mosque. There are different patterns of worship and different ways in which people want to express their faith.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that for some communities, starting off in an old building and converting it may be adequate. One of the mosques in Northampton started off in a house which is listed. The community has long since outgrown it and, partly because the building is listed, there is nothing much that anyone can do with it. We should recognise that as faiths become more established and grow in numbers, the community will want to move somewhere else. One that starts in a back street might want a different type of building, and one that starts on an industrial estate might find that that is not an appropriate place and want to find somewhere else.

It is important that the local authority has ways to manage that. There is some good practice around the country, which the Government could examine and build on so that we ensure that people who come to this country and who bring with them their faith and their set of beliefs find that that aspect of their culture is respected and given its due place. Faith is an essential part of any community-an expression of its beliefs and values. I do not see how faith communities can be respected, as the guidance recommends, without ensuring that they are able to buy or build the facilities that they need for the pursuit and expression of their faith.

Let me give an example, which taught me many years ago about the importance of faith buildings. When I was a newspaper reporter in South Africa, I went to Ladysmith in KwaZulu Natal to meet a mosque builder. He was born in India and as a boy worked for a mosque builder there. He came to South Africa as an indentured labourer to work in the sugarcane fields of KwaZulu Natal. Years went by, and when the Indian community in the area became more established, its members wanted a mosque. Because of apartheid, they could not go abroad to find someone to design it. The man came forward and said that he had worked as a mosque
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builder as a boy, and he could still remember the designs for the mosque. He drew them, and from those plans the beautiful mosque in Ladysmith was built. Indeed, he went on to build others throughout the country. The old man was a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi; he worked with him, and he had been banned by the apartheid regime. When I met him, he was very old and almost completely blind, but he had left a wonderful legacy of amazing buildings that celebrated his faith and were a focal point of the community. I do not understand how, in the middle of apartheid South Africa, the Muslim community could manage to build that absolutely beautiful mosque, yet in tolerant, multiracial Britain my constituents have to worship in a converted service station or in a listed building, which is probably a fire risk when crowded out, as it so often is, during Friday prayers.

The problem is not due to a lack of money, because nobody is asking for any handouts and, as the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) knows, the communities are all more than capable of raising money to construct such buildings. It is due to bureaucratic inertia, a lack of relevant guidance and procedures and a failure to understand the importance to faith communities of somewhere to worship. Our country has a great and historic legacy of cathedrals and other buildings that celebrate our faith. There have also been battles over the years for chapels and other Christian buildings. They are as important as the greatest cathedrals not only for tourism and worship, but for making a statement about large sections of our society. Unfortunately, however, we do not do the same for the other faiths that now make up our society.

There are funding issues, but I do not want to get into them. Religions do not qualify as charities, so they cannot access the same funding as voluntary organisations, which can register as charities. Although religious organisations and faiths can access charity funding for the non-religious parts of their buildings, such as any community or educational facilities that are attached to their place of worship, the point still remains that, for a faith, the key aspect is the ability to worship. There is a difficult issue about funding, however, and that merits further consideration.

My real request is for the Government to include in their guidance on local spatial planning a requirement for local authorities to assess the needs of religious or faith communities, and to ensure that relevant provisions are made to meet those spatial requirements. That includes proper funeral and burial arrangements. It is impossible to dictate what kind of building goes where, but I have listed a few examples of buildings, and the hon. Gentleman listed in his own area several that would meet the needs of different groups, including the number and type of mosques. However, space needs to be allocated, and faith communities need to be engaged in a process so that they can make the best and most appropriate use of those spaces. They also need to be assured that their contribution to community cohesion will be properly recognised in the planning process.

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