Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are aware of the many cultural attractions that grace the Wakefield area, and I was delighted to be in the area recently celebrating the plans for the new Hepworth gallery that is being built there. I know that the Secretary of State will also be visiting the region with the Olympic roadshow in July.
I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, and for his visit to Wakefield to launch the Hepworth trust. Will he join me in congratulating the Yorkshire sculpture park on its recent new commission of James Turell’s fantastic Skyspace deer shelter in the park? It is the first major commission by the national art collection since Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, which stands outside this place. Will my hon. Friend pencil into his forward diary the opening of the new Hepworth gallery in Wakefield city centre in 2008? It will regenerate a swath of our historic waterfront and attract visitors from all over the world to our proud city.
I know that my hon. Friend is doing a huge amount to promote culture and the arts in her region, and we are very grateful to her for that. When I was up in Wakefield, everyone was talking about the sculpture park and the Skyscape, and particularly about the way in which the three elements—the landscape, the architecture and the sculpture—combine to make the park really wonderful. I look forward to visiting it soon, and we have of course pencilled into the diary the coming to fruition of the Hepworth later on.
The candidature file set out the key costs of staging the games. Since then, it has become clear that, in certain areas such as security, there are cost pressures. We are seeking to mitigate those pressures wherever we can, by cost reductions and by maximising the value of the Olympic site itself. That work is continuing.
Given last month’s confusion over the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games—LOCOG—budget, will the Secretary of State provide the House with an accurate estimate of the Government’s contribution to infrastructure improvements in the east end? How much of that is specific to the Olympics, and how much would have been done anyway? Will the Secretary of State consider moving more of the events to places outside London—where facilities either already exist or could be provided more cheaply—such as Much Wenlock in my constituency, which is the home of the modern Olympiad, as she knows?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has been a champion of bringing Olympic benefits to his constituency. I shall be taking part shortly, along with colleagues on both sides of the House, in the Olympic roadshow, which will be travelling around the country between 6 and 27 July. I am quite sure that Much Wenlock is on our itinerary, as it should be. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the benefits of the Olympic games—which will be considerable in economic terms—should be felt around the country, and that is the overriding purpose of the Olympic tour.
In relation to the hon. Gentleman’s first question, I am sure that he will understand that the answer will depend on the conclusion of discussions and negotiations about the balance between the publicly funded parts of the Olympic park and those that might be funded by the private sector. It will be easier to give him an accurate answer when the Olympic Delivery Authority publishes its corporate plan in the autumn.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that an important part of the Olympics involves ensuring that funding is directed to the next generation of sports stars? Will she therefore look into the reasons why The Northern Echo newspaper in the north-east, which wants to raise funds for youngsters as part of its Olympic Dream campaign, has been blocked by the 2012 Olympic organising committee from using the word “Olympic” in the campaign? This public-spirited campaign has a lot of support in the north-east, but it is being blocked by bureaucratic nonsense.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I suspect that similar questions will come up quite often between now and the opening of the games. There are two elements of which he needs to be aware. The first is that the legislation precludes any kind of commercial association with the Olympics unless it is borne out by financial sponsorship. That protection has been established by the International Olympic Committee to address some of the issues that my hon. Friend raised in his first question.
That said, however, I am absolutely determined, as is my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport, to ensure that young people from right around the country benefit from this unique opportunity to take part in sport, glorified by the Olympics. The UK school games has already been established, and we will work with colleagues on both sides of the House to ensure that the legislation required by the IOC is interpreted properly and proportionately and does not put off young people or key local sponsors from taking part in the Olympics.
I wish the Secretary of State well in her efforts to mitigate any costs overrun, but can she give some clarity as to who will pay for any overrun? I represent a London seat, and my constituents already face a substantial bill over a long period. Can she assure me that the costs overrun will be borne nationally, not just by the people of London?
No, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. He knows that the agreement that was signed, which is part of the candidate file, made it absolutely clear that there was a budget that would fund the infrastructure for the Olympic games and that any costs beyond that would be met on the basis of a shared agreement, as at that time unspecified, between the lottery, the council tax payer and, ultimately, the Exchequer. It is worth reminding him that the costs of the Olympic games, again as a requirement of the IOC, are ultimately underwritten by the Exchequer.
The hon. Gentleman and his Front-Bench colleagues will know that the overriding consideration is to keep the cost of the Olympic games down, to maximise the benefit of the legacy and to maximise the benefit to young people in communities in every constituency in the country.
My right hon. Friend is aware that the rest of the UK will benefit from the 2012 London Olympics, but can she advise the House, given that other cities will benefit, whether other, devolved bodies will be expected to make any financial contribution towards the London Olympics?
There is no assumption that any direct funding will come from any of the devolved authorities. Obviously, the lottery will be a major contributor to the costs of the Olympics, and funding the Olympics means that there will be some diversion from other good causes, so indirectly there will be a consequence for the devolved Administrations. The funding formula for the Olympics has been clearly set out and the Olympic lottery is doing very well—better than we expected—but, no, there is no intention that, other than through the lottery, there should be a direct impact on any of the devolved Administrations.
The Secretary of State will be well aware that the £625 million already agreed as London taxpayers’ burden for the Olympics includes £50 million for cost overruns such as she has described as possibly occurring. Will she then at least agree to cap London’s burden at that £625 million, given that an overrun is already included in that figure?
As well as being Secretary of State, I am Member of Parliament for a London constituency. My constituents are as concerned as those of the hon. Lady about the impact on the council tax. It is our responsibility to ensure that the council tax burden is minimised. We have had here and in another place many debates on whether the ultimate amount should be capped, and the reasons as to why not have been clearly set out.
The Secretary of State has said that her constituents, like mine in Uxbridge, are concerned about the cost and the legacy of the Olympics. Is she aware that in the London borough of Hillingdon we have plans for a 25 m pool ready to go ahead, but we are just waiting for a little more investment from either Sport England or the Government to make it a 50 m pool, which would be a superb legacy for the swimmers of west London? A 50 m pool is desperately needed in west London, so can she give us a little hope that her Department will look into this matter a little more seriously?
I am delighted that a new pool is planned for the young people of Hillingdon. The decision on whether it will be a 25 m or a 50 m pool should be made by Sport England, and should be made in the context of proper distribution of 50 m pools—which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, are the standard facility required for competitions.
I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman conclusively at this stage whether Hillingdon is the prime location for a 50 m pool, but I am sure that the pool will be a much-used facility if it measures 25 m. I suggest, however, that on behalf of his constituents the hon. Gentleman should arrange to meet representatives of Sport England, and representatives of UK Sport if necessary, to discuss the distribution of pools and whether Hillingdon is the right place for one.
Obviously my right hon. Friend will be considering funding issues, but does she recognise that Lancashire can play a role in the Olympics too? I am thinking particularly of Chorley, which hosted the mountain biking and road cycling events in the Commonwealth games. Could my right hon. Friend find funds to support a sporting village in the Chorley constituency?
I am sure that my hon. Friend will raise that with me on many occasions between now and 2012.
Our intention and hope is that a combination of increased Government investment in sporting facilities and the activities of local clubs, local authorities and the private sector will produce a substantial rise in the number of facilities not just in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but throughout the country. I look forward to having many more discussions with my hon. Friend, and support his advocacy of a sporting village in his home town.
The question of how we empower young people through sport remains the one wholly uncosted element of the entire Olympic equation. Given that the amount of lottery funding for sport has fallen from £390 million in 1998 to £264 million last year, and given that the proposed big lottery fund has only £19 million earmarked for it, how will the Government finance the key Singapore commitment to empowering young people through sport?
I would not rely only on lottery money, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is spent principally on facilities. Some 2,000 new facilities have been or are being developed on the strength of lottery funds. The programme is not yet complete; it will be complete next year.
The hon. Gentleman should incorporate in his sums the money that is being invested in school sport—some £500 million a year—the money being invested in coaches, the money being invested in the talented athlete scholarship scheme and, of course, the money being invested by the Chancellor in the development of elite sport, as announced in the Budget. It will help participation to ensure—and this will be done by 2010—that every child engages in at least two hours of sport each week in curriculum time and has the opportunity to take part in sporting activity outside school, and that there is competition in schools for young people.
The hon. Gentleman must accept that the money that has been invested over the past three years is now producing results. It is producing results for one specific reason: this Government are wholeheartedly committed to sport being part of every child’s life, and we have provided the means for that to happen.
The new licensing laws have been in place for six months, and it is still too soon to draw any conclusions about their success. What does seem clear is that there has been no discernible increase in alcohol-related crime, and there have been many reports of better working relationships between the police, local authorities and other relevant local partners. Monitoring and evaluation, particularly through the work of the scrutiny councils, will give us a clearer picture of the impact in the longer term, and will guide us in respect of any changes that may be necessary.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply. I share her view that giving local communities more control over licensing has been an important step forward. However, coming up is the combination of light nights and World cup fever, which could be the supreme test of the new licensing laws. What special measures are being taken to improve coordination between the industry, police and local authorities to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable World cup?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and pay tribute to his local authority for its implementation of the Licensing Act 2003. There will be a nationwide programme of policing and enforcement during the World cup, but it is important to note and to take some reassurance from the fact that most World cup matches will be played during the daytime or the early evening. It is not as if the World cup is being played on the other side of the world, which would mean that people were up long after what has become the more normal closing time. However, the police will operate under gold command, co-ordinating across the UK with local forces. Individual establishments are carrying out risk assessments. Licence conditions such as not taking glasses out of the pub are being employed and CCTV is being used. I am encouraged not only by the focus of the police and the seriousness with which they are taking the matter, but by the new spirit of collaboration with local authorities.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the latest research by the Central Council of Physical Recreation, which shows that, contrary to the claim by the Minister for Sport, over 75 per cent. of amateur sports clubs fall outside band A and therefore face significant extra bills as a result of the Act? Is she aware that many village halls, including that in Maldon in my constituency, used up their entire entitlement to temporary event notices by the end of January? Will she ask Sir Les Elton’s committee to address those problems as a matter of urgency and act on its recommendations?
The hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he understands the process by which these questions will be settled. An independent panel sitting under Sir Les Elton is examining fee levels and their impact. He will report later this year.
On the hon. Gentleman's second point, which was about temporary event notices, we have just concluded a consultation on whether there should be any change, but he should remember the importance of getting a proper balance between the interests of local residents, who have greater powers of redress under the Licensing Act, and the wish of village halls and other organisations to be able to put on events with the minimum of bureaucracy. We will address those issues and publish the conclusions later this year.
As my right hon. Friend knows, there is a section within the Licensing Act that states that every sale of alcohol has to be under the supervision of the licence holder. In south Yorkshire, the police have taken that to mean that the licence holder cannot be absent from the premises even for one day and, despite the advice from the Crown Prosecution Service, they have pursued a prosecution of a licence holder who took a few days holiday. In a letter to me that arrived this morning, South Yorkshire police are standing by that interpretation of the legislation and are looking to bring the matter before the courts to try to clarify whether, under the law, which I think is section 19, every sale of alcohol has to be supervised. Will she look at that matter with some urgency because, with the law as it stands, South Yorkshire police will not allow licence holders to take any form of holiday?
While the Secretary of State is absolutely right to say that it is far too soon to judge the impact of the Licensing Act on binge drinking, does she nevertheless agree that one impact has been to create a bureaucratic nightmare for many people? Only today we have heard reports that up to one in six public houses may be trading illegally because they are still awaiting the licence for their premises.
The Secretary of State has just told us, on village halls, amateur sports clubs and so on, that the Government are to consider the matters raised earlier and report on them later. Yet only today I have discovered that the carrying out of the initial part of the Elton report is many months late.
Is the Secretary of State also aware that we have discovered today that the Government are miles behind in their work and consultation on temporary events notices? What is she going to do about that?
With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have to say that that is the kind of diatribe I have come to expect of him. I do not accept all his charges. I am extremely circumspect about making any prediction at this stage on the impact of the Licensing Act, but it will be judged in terms of the objectives set out within it: does it reduce alcohol-related crime and disorder; and does it protect the vulnerable and keep children safe from harm? Those are the tests against which the Act will be judged, and the House will be able in due course to pass its own judgment.
Will my right hon. Friend work closely with her colleagues at the Department of Health to monitor the impact of relaxed licensing laws on consumption and on the implications for the country’s long-term health? Is she, like me, concerned about rising levels of alcohol-related disease, particularly deaths from cirrhosis of the liver?
Will not the public think it completely barmy, if typical of this incompetent Government, that a pub needs a licence for one or two musicians in the bar but does not need one to show World cup matches on big screens to hundreds of inebriated supporters? Will the Secretary of State tell us just how much taxpayers’ money is being used on extra policing, under the alcohol misuse enforcement campaign, in order to massage the crime and disorder figures associated with showing World cup matches?
I shall certainly provide the hon. Gentleman with the figures for spending on the AMEC campaign, which is just concluding. Even he, I think, will judge that spending on past campaigns, which have seen a reduction in alcohol-related violence, has represented excellent value for money.
As for two-in-a-bar versus big screens, the hon. Gentleman knows that the arguments were well ventilated when the Act was debated. Parliament reached its conclusions, and we are getting on with implementing them in a way that reduces alcohol-related crime and disorder, keeps children safe from harm and gives responsible adults a better time than they would otherwise have.
Folk Dance and Song
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport funds Arts Council England to promote and invest in music and dance. Funding levels for these sectors are at their highest ever, with music receiving more than £100 million a year and dance more than £34 million. Investment in folk music and dance has quadrupled since 2002.
I hear the answer that the Minister has given but he has not put any figures in it. He will be as aware as I am that Arts Council England is guilty of artistic cleansing of England’s traditional, indigenous, working-class folk dance and song. As English pride reaches a climax with the World cup approaching, does he agree that Arts Council England should invest more in English folk dance and song, and not invest in contemporary Latin American art, as in foisting a £5.5 million art gallery on Colchester, which people there do not want?
The hon. Gentleman is just plain wrong about the new visual arts centre that is coming to Colchester, of which the Latin American arts component, which is the university of Essex’s contribution to the art gallery, is but a small part. The visual arts can bring regenerative effects, and we all hope to see them in Colchester, as we have seen them in Salford, Newcastle and Gateshead. Yes, he is right: of course the Arts Council should invest in all art forms. That is why it has quadrupled the amount of money that it has given to folk dance, of which he is such a fan; but money has also gone to Colchester’s museum service, which has increased, and to the Mercury theatre in Colchester and to the Colchester arts centre. Across the board, the arts have experienced a funding increase in Colchester—something that he should be pleased about and proud of.
Does the Minister agree that today, which is world environment day, is a prime day to encourage people to holiday in the UK, to enjoy our folk music and dance and to acknowledge the important role played by local authorities in promoting tourism in the UK? Will he write to the British Resorts and Destinations Association, which has its conference this weekend, to congratulate it on the input of local authorities into tourism in the UK, as well as into promoting folk dance and music?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Yes, I will write, but I am also speaking to the Local Government Association on Wednesday, when I will be talking about those very issues, which have caused a revival, not just in our inner city areas but across the country, because local authorities are taking culture and the contribution that the arts can make very seriously.
Switchover across the UK will begin in 2008 and be completed in 2012. In the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, as he knows, there are three broadcasting regions: Anglia, Central and London. Switchover for Anglia and Central will take place in 2011 and be completed, with London, in 2012.
Is the Minister aware that some of the information on the Digital UK website is not accurate and could lead viewers to subscribe to commercial packages that they do not need? In areas, such as mine, on the edge of a Government region, will he investigate whether the Department could do more to clarify which digital transmitters will transmit programmes to areas outside their own regions?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Given that the Government are committed to ensuring that switchover happens across the whole country by 2012, it is absolutely important that we get it right. At this stage, of course, what we have conducted are pilot schemes and trials. In 2008, we begin in the Border region. There are lessons to be learned, and the point that he makes is well taken—I will certainly take it back and look at it—but I propose to write to all hon. Members in the coming weeks to begin to set out what I think the timetable will be. We will have further, final revision of that timetable in the autumn, and I will write again to hon. Members. If questions are raised by hon. Members’ constituents—if people are worried about suddenly losing television pictures and issues of that sort—we will want to satisfy them, and working together with Digital UK, I am sure that we can get this right.
I thank my hon. Friend for coming to Carlisle and addressing the conference on the digital switchover—it was very much appreciated—and for saying that his Department will co-operate with the parliamentary Committee that will be set up to look at it. The Border Television area, part of which I represent, will be the first to switch over in 2008. I understand that the pilot scheme that was recently carried out in Bolton has now reported. Are there any lessons that people in the Border Television area can learn from the results of that pilot?
I thank my hon. Friend for chairing an excellent conference a few weeks ago, which I enjoyed attending. He is right that Border will be the first region where digital switchover will happen. We know from the pilots so far that 97 to 98 per cent. of people in Bolton who experienced switchover liked it. We also found that it was the oldest people and those who are the most severely disabled who had a problem, so we are rightly focusing—in terms of practical help, call centres and targeting of resources—on those whom we believe are most likely to need help. We have learned a lot from the pilots and we are intending to build that into our programme for the Border region. I am sure that, before we begin the work, which after all is still two years away, there will be more lessons to be learned so that we can ensure that my hon. Friend and his constituents are not only the first chapter of the story but one of the best.
Will the Minister explain what help will be given when the analogue signal is switched off to those living in isolated rural communities who cannot receive the digital signal?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We estimate that, when switchover is complete, 98.5 per cent. of the country will be able to receive digital television services. As he will know, that is roughly comparable with the number of people who can receive analogue services and we expect the 1.5 per cent. who cannot broadly to map each other, although it will not be exactly the same.
We will need to address the issue of those who will not be able to receive pictures in 2012. We are conscious of that and working on it now. It is a significant number of people. It is worth bearing it in mind, though, that 1.5 per cent. of the country does not receive television pictures. We need to improve on that and undoubtedly technology will help us in that process. We are determined to work with the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who may have constituents who do not receive analogue pictures so that we can bring everything we know and the technology to bear to help every constituent in the country.
Sports Facilities (Voluntary Groups)
The provision of sports facilities is primarily a matter for local authorities, which take into account local views. On top of that, there has been unprecedented investment in sports facilities over the past five years—in excess of £1 billion of lottery and Exchequer money. Much of that is now coming on stream. In addition, at the heart of the building schools for the future investment strategy of more than £40 billion over the next 15 years are sports facilities to which the community generally will have access.
I welcome that answer, but will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning Liberal Democrat Stockport council for its decision to deny the community group, Friends of Reddish Baths, the opportunity to run the beautiful Edwardian baths in my constituency—the only public swimming baths that serve the north of the borough of Stockport—despite the fact that the group has produced a superb business plan and the council’s only alternative is for the building to remain empty?
I would love to condemn the Liberal council, but I will refrain from doing so, because I can tell my hon. Friend that the local authority has now gone into partnership with the Friends of Reddish Baths and agreed to join the group in meeting the cost of a feasibility study on options for replacing the baths in Reddish, and will help with the bid for the capital cost of any replacement. I hope that common sense is now prevailing and that some agreement can be reached so that they can continue to have that facility in Reddish. That would be on top of one of the biggest investment programmes in swimming pools—in excess of £250 million invested in swimming complexes over the past eight years.
Does the Minister accept that, given the reduction in and redistribution to sports of funding for good causes, voluntary groups in particular have lost out? Will he therefore ensure that funding for good causes is increased to the original 25 per cent?
That is fundamentally wrong. A huge amount of investment is going into sport, well beyond that coming from the lottery that is directed to Sport England. As I said, building schools for the future is one of the biggest investment programmes in sports facilities. The investment via local authorities is over and above that from Sport England. Our investment in schools and the school sport partnership is the biggest investment. There will be 3,000 school sports co-ordinators. That means a teacher having two to three days a week backfilled by another teacher, which is a huge investment.
On coaching, we will have 3,000 community coaches on the ground by the end of next year. We are talking about the biggest investment in coaching, led by sports coach UK. The overall investment in sport is definitely the largest that we have seen and makes up for some of the massive under-investment under the Conservative Administration, who sold off playing fields, under-invested and cast sport aside.
My right hon. Friend is correct to highlight the record investment, but, rightly, the question was about the role of volunteers in sport. Does he acknowledge that sports volunteering makes up 26 per cent. of all volunteering? We still have problems in terms of access for many people, the number of Criminal Records Bureau checks and numerous bits of red tape that get in the way of people volunteering at local level. Will he ensure that, at every stage, volunteering is made easy for local people who just want to contribute to their sports club or sports arena, or to contribute through the schools that he mentioned? Will he get rid of as much of the unnecessary bureaucracy as possible to make things easier for people?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Some of that red tape is important because of the safeguards that it provides for parents and those involved in sport, but the Russell report made clear to the Government what really needs to be done not just to get the investment, but to build the capacity in volunteering. We are taking that seriously and I hope that, over the next few months and years, we will build an infrastructure for volunteering that will be second to none. I acknowledge what my hon. Friend is saying, but the investment in volunteering—directly, through the governing bodies and through the Learning and Skills Council—is to be commended and will reap great dividends.
Television Licence Fee
In line with the commitment in the Green Paper, the Government are conducting a funding review to determine the level of the licence fee to apply from April 2007 and we will announce the outcome of that review later this year.
Many of my constituents, and I believe a great many others, are unhappy with the licence fee. There is a general feeling that it does not provide value for money and that the BBC no longer delivers the high-quality public service broadcasting that it once did. Does the Minister consider that, in today’s digital age, when, for instance, one can receive television pictures on mobile telephones, a compulsory tax on television ownership is the right way to deliver high-quality public service broadcasting in the 21st century?
The hon. Gentleman makes a point that I am sure reflects the views of a minority of people. The majority of people are extremely satisfied with the service that the BBC produces. We have concluded that the right way to proceed for the foreseeable future is through the licence fee. When he and the leader of his party go around caricaturing the BBC, as in a recent speech made to the Newspaper Society by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)—[Interruption.] I remember it well. When the right hon. Gentleman made that speech, he caricatured the BBC and claimed that it squashed all sorts of businesses. The BBC has been a source of, and a benchmark for, the greatest broadcasting anywhere in the world. We are determined to get the review of the licence fee right to ensure that people in this country will have the finest broadcasting and the best public service broadcasting. We will not allow any kind of politics to interfere with that.
The Gambling Act will introduce one of the strictest regulatory regimes anywhere in the world. The Gambling Commission is conducting a study into the prevalence of gambling and will report next year. That study will provide the baseline against which we can measure future trends.
Jim Callaghan was also a realist and he faced up to the responsibilities of government. That is indeed what this Government have done, which is why we had the Budd report, the playing for success initiative and the 2005 Act. The Act brought in the new regulatory authority, the Gambling Commission, and if we had not introduced that, we would have exposed a lot of this country’s population to online gambling and remote gambling over which the Government had no control at all. The Budd report and the 2005 Act were instigated to give the Government—and, indeed, Parliament—the ability to intervene when necessary. If we had not done that, we would have been irresponsible, and even Jim Callaghan would not have thanked us for that.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that most hon. Members have confidence in his and the Department’s ability to bring the proper regulation of gambling into operation? Is he further aware that the provisional shortlist from the casino advisory panel has caused dismay throughout the midlands because there is a yawning gap in the proposals for the super-casino? I declare an interest as a shareholder in, and director of, Coventry City football club. It is clear that Coventry’s bid stands pre-eminent among those from the midlands, especially the west midlands. Will my right hon. Friend give us an early opportunity to make representations to him and the advisory panel so that we can stress the great benefits that such a development could bring?
I thank my hon. Friend for the vote of confidence that he gave my Department and me in being able to implement the Gambling Act 2005. The decisions on the casinos were made against the background of the Opposition forcing the number of regional casinos down from eight to one. I stress that an independent panel sat and made the judgments that have come back to the Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State and I will meet my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) so that Coventry can put its case to us.
Is it not a fact that, in yet another example of what we have come to recognise so well as a lack of joined-up government, the Minister’s Department is still using a different estimate of the number of problem gamblers from officials in what was the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister? Is it not also the case that the Gambling Commission has not even commenced work on a prevalence study on problem gamblers, which, in any case, will now report only after the green light for the casino pilot and the massive growth in online gambling? Given that we have no firm criteria for judging results, will the Minister tell us what will constitute the success or failure of the regional casino?
I do not accept that the point on which the hon. Gentleman predicates his question is a fact. As I told the House, the prevalence study is under way and will report. Pilot schemes are being instigated, so we will learn from them. We take the baseline seriously, which is why the prevalence study is wide and detailed and will give sound information with which we can measure future trends. The hon. Gentleman asks about success, but this country has the lowest levels of problem gambling and, as I have said, we embodied the principles of the Gaming Act 1968 into the 2005 Act, along with establishing the regulator, the Gambling Commission, which probably has more powers to intervene than any other regulatory authority in this country. Indeed, many people abroad are examining the way in which the commission will be operating.
I am somewhat surprised by the Minister’s complacency. Last week, the Secretary of State candidly admitted that she had presided over an “explosion in online gambling” and said:
“as things stand it’s an explosion over which we have very little control”.
She went on to say:
“we will be persuading those UK operators who currently operate offshore to come onshore to be properly recognised”.
Can the Minister tell us how many such companies are trading in the United Kingdom? Will he provide examples of what he has in mind to induce those companies to come onshore? What action will he and the rest of his Department take if the companies do not do so?
Obviously, she did so, but that is why we put the Act on the statute book and why we will intervene through the Gambling Commission. Yes, we want companies to come back onshore: we have the best regulatory authority in the world, so we can protect both the vulnerable and the punter. We can keep crime out of gambling—that is what the Act is about, and it provides Government with the ability to intervene to protect citizens. The hon. Gentleman ought to look at the Act again to find out the real reason why we put it on the statute book.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission was asked—
Does the hon. Gentleman think that experience of the political process is a valuable asset to a body that deliberates on, among other things, the funding and organisational practices of political parties? Does he consider that the practice of recruiting only people who have not had any active involvement in any political party for the 10 years before application may not be the best use of those potential assets to the commission?
I know of the hon. Gentleman’s interest and recently read an article that he published on the subject. The 10-year rule and the other disqualification criteria for the appointment of commissioners and commission staff were determined by Parliament when it passed the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. However, as he may be aware, that aspect of the Act is being reviewed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in its inquiry into the Electoral Commission. It is a subject, too, about which the Speaker’s Committee has expressed concern, as the minutes of the July 2004 meeting reveal.
The hon. Gentleman will know that, under the previous Government, the Widdecombe commission looked at restricting the political activity of people in particular positions. Will he examine that when considering into what the Speaker’s Committee can make inquiries, because many of my friends believe that that places an undue burden on their right to pursue a passive interest in the political process?
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
There are no European Union funds principally for the restoration of historic churches and cathedrals. The best thing that the European Union can do for us is to reduce VAT on church repairs. The church heritage forum is developing close partnerships with funding and fundraising bodies and disseminating information to church and cathedral authorities to assist in the upkeep of historic churches and cathedrals by way of a stitch in time.
As the hon. Gentleman said that there are no funds available, I am inclined to ask, why not? Churches in the United Kingdom provide heritage that is of great European importance. Will the commissioners go to the other Commission and say that money is required, not only for great cathedrals such as Lichfield but for churches all over the country, as that heritage makes Europe so very different?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] The House is in an hilarious mood. Compared with other parts of Europe, United Kingdom churches and places of worship are poorly funded. We recommend that some public funding should be available in recognition of both the contribution that they make to the community and of the cost of their upkeep.
I support the views of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) but, I visited Notre Dame and Sacré Coeur last week—[Laughter.] As well as going to Leicester. Those are not just places of worship but places of great tourism. It is important to see whether European initiatives can be co-ordinated to support not just churches but places of worship for people of other faiths that have been turned into great tourism centres.
That was more a statement than a question, but I will take it as a question from my hon. Friend. As the Bishop of London said in another place,
“In other European countries, a more realistic contribution to the maintenance of the historic fabric seems to be possible, in view of the considerable social benefits that church buildings offer to the whole community.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 October 2004; Vol. 665, c. 1146.]
That may explain why our European Union partners see little need for central European restoration funds.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to that campaign. English Heritage recently announced grants of £17.5 million to listed buildings, but that should be set against £328 million of repairs outstanding in Anglican churches alone in 2003, and the £101 million actually spent on repairs in that year. The English Heritage “Inspired!” campaign to which he refers has also called for more state funding.
Ecclesiastical Appointments (Women)
In July, the General Synod will debate whether it wishes to proceed to legislation and, if so, on what basis. The Church will need to decide at each stage the speed at which it wishes to proceed, but it would in any event be at least four years before the final approval stage is reached.
As my hon. Friend knows, meetings are taking place this week with the bishops to try to find a way forward on the matter. Does he recognise the strong body of opinion that exists in the Church in support of women bishops, and will he do everything in his power to ensure that proposals are brought forward quickly, including to this place? Everybody would want them to be made well within four years.
My hon. Friend’s concern reflects the frustration felt by many right hon. and hon. Members. The Church, however, needs to give the matter careful consideration. Not everyone in the House, I would surmise, agrees with my hon. Friend. Synod needs to recognise and respect the integrity of differing beliefs and positions, and to weigh issues of theology and unity with arguments of justice. Even the Synod, when it comes to a conclusion, must vote by a majority of at least two thirds in all three of its sections.
It would be more apt if the hon. Gentleman said, “A little too late”, since we have had women priests for some years. However, there is a dilemma within the Church that must be resolved in its own time and at its own pace. Although the messages that we give from the House are reflected in decisions in the Synod, we will continue to press on the issue to reflect the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) and by the hon. Gentleman.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
The Electoral Commission discharges its statutory responsibility for promoting public awareness of electoral and democratic systems through programmes of education and information. The Commission has also made a number of recommendations for changes to the law, aimed at increasing participation.
I cannot be the only Member to have noticed the sense of pride and of fulfilling a rite of passage that many young people feel when they vote for the first time. It must be the view of Members in all parts of the House that we need to encourage a culture of participating in elections. Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Electoral Commission to consider the value of issuing something like a flag day emblem to everybody who votes, and possibly taking a leaf out of the blood transfusion services’ book, so that when people have voted a number of times—when they become regular voters—they get some permanent emblem?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that participation in local elections has increased slowly in the past three years, which is welcome. Will he commend to the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission these two ideas, in which the Department for Constitutional Affairs appears interested: first, holding a countdown to democracy day to encourage people to register in time to vote and, secondly, introducing a campaign to publicise the last day for postal voting? If those two things were to happen, many more people would be able to vote.
The commission’s total budget for public awareness in 2006-07 was £7.379 million. The commission spent £3.65 million on advertising activities associated with the elections in May 2006. It is open to new ideas, and I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the best ways to increase participation in elections is to ensure that polling stations are conveniently located for voters? The Electoral Commission should consider issuing clear guidelines on how far voters are expected to walk to a polling station. In the last local election in my constituency, the London borough of Barnet placed one polling station in a marginal ward about 40 minutes’ walk away from a less well-off area and right in the middle of a more well-off area, which gerrymandered the result.
I know that the Electoral Commission takes the view that it is not possible to specify the maximum distance that an individual should walk to a polling station. However, the Electoral Commission is involved in such issues. For example, it has recommended a change in the last date for registration, so that it is closer to the date of an election, and it has also recommended clearer powers for returning officers and registration officers to encourage participation at a local level, which relates to the hon. Gentleman’s question.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Ecclesiastical Appointments (Women)
At the end of 2004, there were five female archdeacons, two female deans or provosts and 14 other female cathedral clergy.
It looks as though the Church of England is slowly moving towards women bishops, but progress is far too slow. Many women who work in the Church would do a far better job than many of the current bishops. Will my hon. Friend tell the Synod on behalf of this House that we want women bishops as soon as is humanly possible and, for that matter, as is divinely possible? Will he point out to the bishops that, although every one of them voted with the archbishop for the ludicrous apartheid system, seven of them have subsequently written personal, private letters to me saying that they will not support those measures? Can we make sure that there is no apartheid on this issue and that women are treated equally in the Church?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. If I can steer him back to deans, canons and archdeacons, he has said that
“the number of women ordinands is rapidly catching up with the number of male ordinands.”—[Official Report, 13 June 2005; Vol. 435, c. 15.]
May that process continue and eventually lead to women bishops.
Nearly half the clergy latterly surveyed stated that their standard of living was equivalent to or above that of the majority of households in their parish. By way of a statement, the average stipend increased by 25 per cent. between 1999 and 2005, compared with an increase of 16 per cent. in the retail prices index and 27 per cent. in average earnings.
Does my hon. Friend really believe that a parish vicar’s pay is substantial, given that a vicar must look after their family and will need a house at the end of their service? The pension should meet the number of years that a vicar has put into the Church in order to provide for quality of life.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for relating his question to pensions. As I told the House on 24 April, the Church is reviewing its pensions arrangements. On the stipend, he will be aware that most clergy are provided with housing, including the payment of their council tax, water charges, maintenance, external decoration and insurance, and a non-contributory Church pension. There is no such thing as a parish priest who is as poor as a church mouse.
This year’s joint allocation from English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund for repair grants for listed places of worship is £25 million, while the VAT grants scheme reimburses about £12 million per year. By way of a statement, and to put these sums in context, in 2003 the cost of major repairs was £101 million.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that that amounts to a radical cut in heritage grants from last year? Has he had the opportunity to make representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to apply for a reduced rate of VAT, or have the Church Commissioners considered doing what is done in Denmark by imposing 1 per cent. on income tax for all those who practise at the state church?
The first part of the hon. Lady’s question deals with a Government Department. It is for the Department that deals with heritage to say whether the English Heritage grant has been cut. However, I can tell her that English Heritage estimates that the cost of repairs to listed places of worship, 80 per cent. of which are Anglican churches, will be £925 million over five years, or £185 million a year. We are raising the question of funding for church repairs with the Chancellor, but I would not be so bold as to invite him to add 1 per cent., or 1p, to income tax.