Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
UK School Games
In 2006, the UK School Games in Glasgow involved more than 1,000 young athletes, and saw 98 personal bests and four new records.
This year’s event in Coventry has eight sports for 1,300 competitors—300 more than last year. They are young, talented athletes. Seventy volunteers will also be drawn from throughout the country. I am delighted that, this year, table tennis for disabled athletes will be one of the competitions.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply. I am pleased that the UK School Games move around the UK and open up opportunities. What possibility do this year’s and future UK School Games offer of promoting the opportunity for athletes to partake in the 2012 UK Olympics?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Obviously, young people who take part in the UK School Games compete at higher levels than they have ever done before. At every stage of a young person’s participation in sport, there is more opportunity for competition. It is fair to say that every UK School Games between now and 2012 will be a training ground for our young athletes, many of whom benefit from the talented athlete scholarship scheme—TASS—or other schemes for promoting young talent. We hope that all those young athletes will win medals and be on the podium in 2012.
I hold regular discussions with the music industry about a range of issues, including copyright, in conjunction with Ministers from the Department of Trade and Industry.
I hope that my hon. Friend will not mind if I congratulate Wasps and Leicester on their sensational final yesterday.
Given the Gowers report on copyright and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report on the subject, which are at separate ends of the spectrum, is a White Paper on the matter due this side of Christmas?
First, I congratulate the Select Committee on the excellent report it produced last week. In the course of considering new media, it also examined copyright. It is a complex issue, which has been examined in detail, not least in the Gowers report. Although we will obviously spend the next few weeks considering the Select Committee’s recommendations, we are not yet persuaded that extending copyright for performers is in their best interests.
I thank the Under-Secretary for his remarks about the Select Committee report, which unanimously recommended an extension in the term of copyright to 70 years. When he considers the matter, will he bear it in mind that the beneficiaries of a copyright extension will not only be friends of the Prime Minister, such as Cliff Richard and the Bee Gees, but thousands of musicians? Perhaps he will especially bear in mind the remarks of Fast Eddie Clarke of Motörhead, who wrote to me and said:
“You may think that as a rock musician I should not expect to live until 80. I can assure you I did not think this was going to happen but... My royalties will be my pension and something to pass on to my family, so to learn that they will be stripped away before my 80th birthday is frankly unacceptable.”
I take the hon. Gentleman’s points, and we are concerned about the central matter, which is whether extending copyright would benefit musicians and performers, whom I personally regard as equivalent to any other artists involved.
Let me make two observations. The Select Committee report was not entirely fair to Gowers, who considered more than the economics of the case. He also examined fairness. It might be worth reflecting again on the Gowers report and noting that extending copyright from 50 to 70 years or longer would rarely benefit the musicians. Indeed, the British Phonographic Institute’s work through PricewaterhouseCoopers shows that probably less than 1 per cent. would go to those musicians. More significantly, the trade balance would be in deficit because the artists in the United States would benefit from changes to copyright law here, and that would have a disproportionate effect on our artists elsewhere, with their great international reputations.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the position under current law is unfair and illogical? The people involved in creating a recording—composers, sleeve note designers, even those who write the sleeve notes—benefit from a term of life plus 70, while the musicians benefit from a term of only 50 years. That cannot be justified. If my hon. Friend agrees, will he take discussions forward with the Department of Trade and Industry so that we can lead the way in Europe and get this changed?
My hon. Friend makes an important contribution to the debate. I will continue the dialogue with the industry, which I believe really matters. The issue is fairness, which is why my hon. Friend makes a moral argument, but I think that we should be fair to the Gowers report. The critical issue is the contractual arrangements between record companies and artists. For any extended term, many of those rights are signed away with the record companies. My hon. Friend should look again at Gowers, especially the conclusion in box 4.2:
“If the purpose of extension is to increase revenue to artists… it seems that a more sensible starting point would be to review the contractual arrangements for the percentages artists receive.”
The Minister is absolutely right that a blanket extension would benefit super-rich stars, record companies and people who are already dead, but does he agree that there is a very serious issue for large numbers of backing musicians and people such as Eddie Clarke, who is my constituent? Does he further agree that the best solution would be a restricted extension on a use-or-lose basis for people who individually apply?
The hon. Gentleman also makes an important contribution and I am certainly prepared to consider it. A comparison is often made with the United States, where the extension of term is to 95 years, yet within the US, 70 per cent. of eating establishments and 45 per cent. of shops, for example, pay no digital rights whatever. Performers get royalties only on digital radio. If we were to borrow the US system and incorporate it into the UK—if that were possible within the competence of the European Union—it would mean a loss to our artists of more than $25 million a year.
The Government announced on 15 March that, subject to parliamentary approval, Arts Council England would contribute a total of £112.5 million towards the cost of the Olympics over four years. The Arts Council should still receive nearly £500 million of new lottery money between 2008-09 and 2011-12.
The cuts in lottery funding for good causes could not have come at a worse time for my Reading, East constituents. The slashing of the European social fund grants budget in the south-east and the Government’s decision that only 2 per cent. of it will be replaced by community grants means that we will be hit by a double whammy of cuts in arts funding and cuts in small community grants that help hard-to-reach local groups. How will the Minister ensure that important local groups continue to be supported?
It is important that the hon. Gentleman understands that core funding for the arts continues and has risen by 75 per cent. He should also take comfort from the Big Lottery, which has made it clear that voluntary organisations and the third sector are to be protected. That will benefit his constituents.
My hon. Friend will be delighted to hear that my home city of Brighton and Hove was mentioned at the south-east launch for the Olympic games last week. It is currently hosting a cultural festival, which is in full swing and well worth a visit. It also hopes to hold a cultural festival in 2012. Does the Minister agree that, with its close proximity to London and its future sporting venues, it would be ideal for a sporting event?
I congratulate everyone in Brighton on the festival’s continued success, which I understand is attracting £20 million of inward investment to the city. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State might also want to discuss with the local authority the possibility of Brighton hosting one of the training camps for the Olympics.
If the arts have to suffer a funding cut due to the Olympics, will the Minister confirm that one of the projects that will be cut is the Decibel Penguin prize, a short story competition that he launched and that has fallen foul of the Commission for Racial Equality because it discriminates against white people? Will he confirm that the prize will never see the light of day again?
The manner in which the hon. Gentleman puts his question is rather unfortunate. The Decibel programme, across the Arts Council, has been successful in bringing black and ethnic minority people into the arts and encouraging and supporting them. It is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman degrades the success of the programme in that way.
An important part of the Olympics will be the cultural Olympiad, and Wakefield is blessed in having two fantastic venues: the Hepworth gallery, the launch of which my hon. Friend the Minister attended and which will open in 2009, and our wonderful Yorkshire sculpture park, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited to see the Andy Goldsworthy exhibition. Will my hon. Friend write to me with the results of the meetings between the sculpture park’s director and departmental officials about the costs of the park? The grant is just over £1 million a year for looking after 500 acres of historic landscape and many historic buildings and getting international artists such as Andy Goldsworthy along, which represents very good value for money. The park needs a one-off injection of funds to help Yorkshire and Wakefield fully to participate in the cultural Olympiad.
The Minister has referred only to Arts Council England. Will he confirm from his own departmental figures that the total cut in funding to the arts across the United Kingdom to pay for the Olympics will be well over £200 million? Will he also confirm that there is very little additional funding—only £28 million—coming back from the legacy fund, much of which will come from the lottery anyway? How does he square that huge cut in arts funding with the Prime Minister’s comment that the arts are of “fundamental importance” to the country?
When we came to power, the arts were on their knees. The National Theatre was surviving on a diet of musicals, orchestras were going bankrupt, and regional theatres were having to close. Core funding for the arts has now increased by 75 per cent., and we are proud of that achievement. There is no bigger good cause than the Olympics, which will lift the aspirations of one of the poorest parts of London and of young people across the country as we aim to put on the best Olympics that the country has ever seen. The hon. Gentleman cannot support the Olympics while offering no proposals of his own for their funding.
There is no doubt that funding for the arts is crucial to this country. In regard to the assessment of the impact of the increased spending on the Olympic games, will my hon. Friend assure the House that working class communities will not suffer as a result of that spending, especially at a time when some of those in the Government are rediscovering their working class roots?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise the participation of working class people—people in the lower socio-economic groups—in the arts. That is why the Department has public service agreement targets. It is also why we were keen to establish free museum entry, for example, which has resulted in as much as a 100 per cent. improvement in the participation in the arts by people in the poorer socio-economic groups.
When the Secretary of State announced the latest raid on the lottery to pay for the Olympics, she described it as a “temporary diversion” that would be repaid through the sale of land. Since then, however, she has described the money as venture capital, but we have had no details of what the good causes can expect to receive. In fact, my written parliamentary questions on the issue have gone unanswered for a month, so no luck there. Will the Minister tell the House exactly how much the arts and the other good causes will eventually receive back? Will it be a fixed amount? Will it be a percentage share? Or is it simply the case that, two months after the announcement, neither he nor the right hon. Lady has any idea because they cannot secure an agreement from the Chancellor?
Grow up. It is ironic that the Tories have a problem with investment. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as everyone else in the House that no one can predict property values in 2012. We have made a pledge, however, that the money should come back to the lottery good causes after it has gone to the Olympic Delivery Authority. We will stand by that pledge.
Sport and Physical Activity
Certainly, more sport is being played generally, but marked inequalities still exist in women’s and girls’ participation and achievement. Through our national physical education and school sport strategy, which is engaging schools and their governing bodies throughout the country, we are working to address that. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me, however, in welcoming Sport England’s £350,000-plus grant to the Wigan community sport network to help boost young women’s participation in sport in the area. I know that her constituents will benefit from that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I understand that physical activity among girls and young women starts falling off at age 10, and then falls off considerably. In my constituency of Worsley, the proportion of all our young people taking part in physical activity is already lower, at one in five, than the national figure of one in three. I am concerned that there is not a healthy level of physical activity among girls and young women in my constituency, because they do not participate. Is there now scope for initiatives targeted at girls to ensure that they understand that sport is fun, and to ensure that they find sport and physical activity as accessible as boys and young men obviously do?
The answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes. Several specific initiatives exist not just to engage girls in the conventional school sports, but, for instance, to introduce dance to the school physical education curriculum, with a high level of participation among girls. Such initiatives also take account of girls’ ambivalence about sport if they must wear clothing in which they feel uncomfortable. A range of things must be done to engage girls in such activity. Progress has been shown, but it is still slow, and we want to ensure that inequalities are properly addressed.
The Secretary of State will know that 19 per cent. of women take part regularly in sport, compared with 25 per cent. of men. Does she agree that a good way of correcting that imbalance would be through community leisure centres, such as those in Malmesbury, Wootton Bassett, Calne and Cricklade in my constituency, which were nearly closed by the Liberal Democrat council, until it was swept from power on 5 May? Now that we have a Conservative district council, I very much hope that the centres will be maintained. Does she agree, however, that it would be terrible if the funding of those leisure centres was cut in any way because of the money being transferred to the Olympics?
Women’s and girls’ football is increasingly rapidly in both popularity and success. Will my right hon. Friend do something to help girls such as Hannah Dale in my constituency? Hannah is a mad-keen footballer and a startlingly good player. Since her 11th birthday last summer, however, Football Association rules have banned her from playing with her local team just because she is a girl.
I commend both my hon. Friend’s and Hannah Dale’s efforts to reverse that old-fashioned regime. It is worth noting that only 1 per cent. of women play football, compared with 13 per cent. of men, but the rate of growth in women playing football is 35 per cent. a year. The inequalities that I referred to in relation to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) also apply in relation to football. Hannah Dale, Minnie Cruttwell and many other promising young women footballers around the country find their careers stalled. When facing the top brass of the FA, they were more powerful advocates than, I suspect, anyone in the Chamber could have been. We hope that the FA will realise the urgency of the issue and the public support for a change in the rules to open up opportunities for Hannah and many other young women like her.
Given that it is now 30 years since Virginia Wade won the women’s singles title at Wimbledon, and that very belatedly indeed the All England Club has recognised the unanswerable ethical case for equal prize money, in what way is the right hon. Lady using her very considerable powers of influence to encourage far more women to take up the game of tennis and to increase access to the sport for girls at state schools, and thereby perhaps to maximise the chance that before too long we might have another ladies’ Wimbledon winner?
Those of us on this side of the House would find very little difficulty in disagreeing with anything that the hon. Gentleman says sitting on that side of the House. The fact that a very substantial number of school sports colleges now offer tennis is one of the best ways of getting young people from state schools to play those sports—tennis, rugby, rowing, sailing and so forth—that for too long have been limited, or overly-limited, to young people from private schools. Opening up opportunity is how we get more champions.
The Heritage Lottery Fund will contribute an additional £90.2 million towards the costs of the Olympics over four years, subject to parliamentary approval. The Heritage Lottery Fund should still receive more than £700 million of new lottery money between 2008-09 and 2011-12.
Over the past six days, I have met a variety of organisations—Heritage Link, the Arts Council of England, the Voluntary Arts Network, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Central Council of Physical Recreation—all of which, whether they are from the heritage sector or other sectors, share the same concern about the impact of the Olympics’ smash-and-grab raid. How can there be a cultural Olympics and a growth in grass-roots sport if the funding is taken away?
With regard to the heritage sector specifically, will the Minister guarantee that there will be no further cuts in heritage funding and that there will be a favourable funding settlement for the heritage sector in the comprehensive spending review to compensate for the lottery cuts?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot give any assurances about the comprehensive spending review. What I can say is that overall, looking at the contribution that the HLF has made and at our grant in aid to English Heritage and the other parts of the heritage sector—museums and archives—we are spending more on heritage in this country than ever before.
But the fact is that English Heritage is extremely concerned about what it is receiving and many deserving causes, particularly people charged with maintaining historic churches, are finding this a most anxious time. The fact of the matter is that the Minister and the Secretary of State have not been able to give the reassurances that we seek. Will he now give them?
I say to the hon. Gentleman, particularly in his capacity as chair of the all-party group on arts and heritage and in light of his many years of lobbying on the issue, that there are, of course, sensitivities within the heritage sector at this time, but it would be unusual if there were not sensitivities in any sector leading up to a comprehensive spending review. We have seen a huge success in the open days across the heritage sector, with huge new buildings being revived and brought into contact with people who were not able to visit heritage institutions in the past. We want to build on that success and, quite rightly, that is the case that we are making to the Treasury.
I am sure that the Minister and the whole House will want to join me in expressing our enormous regrets at the loss of the Cutty Sark this morning. Does not the outpouring of grief that we feel show how important our heritage is? This is absolutely the wrong time to cut heritage grants. What assurances can he give us that he will redouble his efforts to get a better settlement for heritage in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review?
I join the hon. Gentleman in expressing what I am sure is the whole House’s concern about what happened to the Cutty Sark this morning. The Secretary of State and I will go to the Cutty Sark after questions today. It is a hugely important part of our national maritime heritage, and we hope, as does everyone, that it will be restored for the third time for the country to enjoy.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I cannot pre-empt the Chancellor from the Dispatch Box and commit the Department’s heritage spending over the next period. What I can say is that it is right for us to build on success. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we give English Heritage £130 million a year, and that the successful listed places of worship scheme has brought £56 million back to our churches. I can also say that the Heritage Lottery Fund will still have £700 million to spend between 2009 and 2012, of which we can all be proud.
School Sport Facilities
The Government recognise that education facilities are playing an increasing role in the delivery of community sports facilities. The £45 billion building schools for the future programme will rebuild or remodel the entire building stock of England's secondary schools over the next 10 to 15 years, and will give schools an opportunity—as part of the extended schools provision—to provide wider community access to their facilities, including sports provision. My Department has a very constructive engagement and relationship with the Department for Education and Skills.
Given the golden opportunity for community sport that is offered by that £45 billion, and by the £500 million of New Opportunities Fund money that is being invested in schools, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the remodelling and rebuilding is adequate for the purpose? What discussions has he had about removing the additional problem of VAT on community use outside the academy system?
In 2001, 2 million young people were benefiting from two hours of quality physical activity such as sport. Last year the figure rose to 5 million, which means that young people in the education system are now spending 6 million hours per week engaged in sport or other physical activities. That success is being extended to out-of-school activities: we are committed to an extra two hours of out-of-school physical activity per week for every child aged between five and 16. All that will be assisted by many of the facilities being built as part of building schools for the future.
As my hon. Friend knows, the Chancellor has made announcements about VAT. I hope that we shall be able to make progress on an issue that I know has been of concern for some years.
Idsall school in Shifnal, in my constituency, has set aside a large piece of land next to the school for a community swimming pool. What funds are available for community swimming pools, which can be of value not only to local schools but to the wider community?
I have no information about that specific pool, but I hope it is included in the strategy that is being developed by the governing body, the Amateur Swimming Association, with Sport England. We want development to be consistent, and to ensure that swimming pools and, indeed, all other facilities are built and refurbished in the areas where they are needed. If the pool is included in that strategy, it will be covered by the funding package that has been agreed with the ASA and Sport England. The aim is to create and fund such facilities with the help of the community and, in some cases, the private sector.
May I recommend dual use? For four decades a Labour county council and a Labour borough council in my constituency used such school facilities a great deal. Does the Minister realise, however, that the burden on school swimming pools in Tamworth has increased dramatically since the Conservative council sold the business for £1 to a private developer and a private operator, which has subsequently gone out of business? Now, those who use the pool, including schoolchildren and pensioners, must fall back on the only provision available under existing school arrangements.
Again, I do not know about the specific circumstances of that matter, but if my hon. Friend writes to me I will look into it. However, it is unfortunately the case that Conservative and Liberal administrations are at the forefront of shutting down sports facilities around the country—but what is new?
If £45 billion is being spent on these measures, why is Southfield school for girls, a dedicated sports college in my Kettering constituency, struggling fully to fund a new sports hall? Will the Minister enter into dialogue with his colleagues at the Department for Education and Skills to ensure that Kettering schoolgirls get the funding that they deserve for sport in their schools?
Very much so—and the example that the hon. Gentleman gives is the exception and not the rule because the vast majority of the 450 sports partnerships that are operating around England are highly successful. They are delivering an output that is second to none—I have given the statistics on that—and I do not believe that any country in the developed world has more physical activity and sport on its school agenda than has been the case in England over the past five or six years. However, I will look into the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises and get in touch with him about it.
Will my right hon. Friend investigate how many local authorities are under-using facilities that have been provided for dual use with education? Unfortunately, Staffordshire is not alone in its mismanagement of vital facilities, and a certain amount of imagination and urgency would improve the management of them and provide much wider cover for children.
My hon. Friend might well have a point. As I travel around the country I talk a lot to those involved in the partnerships—such as the schools—on how they have been constructed. There is often a problem in having community use in school hours. There is an issue to do with the separation of the children from the general public, and the physical nature of the activities can create problems, as can the location of schools. I was in the east end of London last week, and I came across that. We are consulting on building schools for the future and Sport England and trying to introduce best practice, so I hope some such problems will be resolved in the future.
As the Minister appears to place such great emphasis on sport facilities in schools, how does he feel about the new school that was opened without any playing area, and about the fact that Sport England’s budget has been cut owing to the lottery contribution to the Olympic games?
I do not think that those two things are coupled, so let us park the last point and instead deal with the first one. It is my understanding that the decision on the playing area was made after dialogue between that school’s authorities, the local authority and Sport England, so the school took that decision—and I assume that it will be using indoor sports facilities rather than outdoor. It took that decision on behalf of its pupils.
As my right hon. Friend will know, the sporting bodies are spending a lot of time and money on tackling ticket touting, especially on the internet, and on sports betting. What is he doing—perhaps by way of regulations—to support the sporting bodies that so that money that goes on what are in some respects frauds on the public can instead go on increasing community access to sport?
Both of those issues were taken up at the meeting that I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had with the five governing bodies. I am pleased that the Gambling Commission has today published its report on sports betting integrity, which is very important not only here in the UK but internationally. I know that all sports are taking that very seriously. All the main governing bodies have signed up to the 10-point charter on the integrity of sports betting. The issue of ticket touting was raised because there is great concern that money is seeping out of sport and into the private sector and that that could be damaging to sport. We had a long discussion. We believe that action now needs to be taken and we are in dialogue. The voluntary approach has not been as successful as we wanted. We are looking at whether the crown jewel sports events can be used as pilots, and I hope that we can make progress in the not too distant future.
I spent the morning at Bisley for the launch of national shooting week, as the sport’s governing bodies provided an opportunity for MPs on both sides of the House to meet some of the young competitors hoping to compete in the London 2012 Olympics and in the Commonwealth games. They all raised one particular issue with me—the absurd position in which they find themselves, as they are supported by public money on the one hand but banned from carrying out that activity in this country on the other. I first raised that issue with the Minister for Sport 18 months ago, and he said that progress had been made. What has happened?
To make it clear, there will be 17 disciplines in the Olympics, on 14 of which Team GB can proceed unhindered. There are three disciplines about which we have written to our colleagues in the Home Office, because Dunblane and the action taken in response are still with us. The hon. Gentleman knows that we put legislation on the statute book, and it was absolutely right to do so. We have asked, as we did for the Commonwealth games in Manchester, whether we could facilitate the practise of those disciplines. We could do so for the Commonwealth games, and I have no doubt that we will try to do so for the Olympics. Nevertheless, we have written to the Home Office, and asked it to review the issue, and it will come back with a response. The hon. Gentleman has met all those governing bodies, but it might not be a bad idea if he got the leader of his party to meet them. He is like the Scarlet Pimpernel—they seek him here, they seek him there, and the sport seeks him everywhere. He has not responded to any governing body—
One matter that is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend and the team is the question of Bolsover baths. I assure him that there is great excitement in the town and the local authority, given the efforts that we have made in recent times. Will he give me an update on the situation, or will I have to ask him in July after we have a new Prime Minister? Will he be there?
The House will recall that the vote on the relevant order was carried in the House of Commons and lost by a small margin of three votes in the House of Lords. The order dealt with the location of the 17 casinos. Following the vote in the House of Lords, Ministers are considering how to proceed, and we will make an announcement in due course.
Presumably, the Secretary of State now regrets not taking our advice and failing to decouple the 16 small casinos from the super-casino. Will she put that right by bringing forth an order and legislation so that we can proceed with the 16 smaller casinos, which are largely uncontroversial?
Like every self-reflecting Member, I have regrets, but I do not think that I have any regrets about advice that I have failed to take from the Opposition, particularly on an issue which, within the presumption of public protection, will create more than 7,000 jobs, many of which are in deprived areas, and bring hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of investment, but was the subject of nothing less than party political shenanigans by the Opposition—a cynical move. We will return in due course and inform the House of our proposals to take this forward.
Will the Secretary of State say what “shortly” means? It sounds a bit like “in due course”, with an unknown length of time ahead. However, it appears that the retiring Prime Minister wants two regional casinos, while the right hon. Lady wants one, and the Prime Minister-in-waiting wants none at all. Will she put an end to the chaos and confusion and confirm that we will have only one regional casino, and that no more will be considered until we see its social and economic impact in the three years after it opens?
I have made the Government’s position clear: consistent with our policy of public protection, there will be one regional casino during this Parliament. No others will be considered until that experience has been evaluated properly. There is no mess or confusion, except what is due to the unsuccessful attempts of the Opposition.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Smoking in places of worship has never been acceptable. Policies for many other Church properties, from offices through to schools and church halls, vary, although many, including the national Church offices, are already smoke free. By way of a statement, guidance about the new provisions is being discussed with the Department of Health and will be promulgated as widely as possible, including to cathedral deans
I agree with my hon. Friend. His original question had to do with the Commission’s offices, and I can tell him that the national Church institutions have had a no smoking policy in place since 2000. They have updated the policy recently, to comply fully with the Health Act 2006.
I speak with some feeling, as a man whose wedding photograph is marred by the fact that an exit sign on the ancient church door appears between my wife and myself. Will the hon. Gentleman resist the regulations vigorously? It would be ironic indeed if we were to give way on this matter as, when the members of the council of my parish church applied for permission to put up a plaque containing the 10 commandments, they were told to get lost.
I certainly agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman. I am glad that his marriage is steadfast, notwithstanding the exit sign. I also agree with the Dean of Southwark that it would not be sensible to place no smoking signs on a beautiful Norman doorway that has been locked closed for 500 years. Discussions on the matters are taking place with the Department of Health, which I believe is taking a reasonable approach to signage.
I was somewhat alarmed to hear the hon. Gentleman say that all smoking was banned, as I presume that incense is not covered. I support the smoking ban in general, and voted for it but, if he is right and we have to have signs, does he agree that they could be Gothic, with twirly whirly bits, or Norman? Signs like that would fit in more appropriately with beautiful cathedrals such as the one in Lichfield.
The hon. Gentleman has got the idea that there is general outrage among anybody who has an interest in cathedrals. I have the privilege to represent two and I used to sing in another. I hope that he will tell the relevant Ministers that, if it is required, all parties should be absolutely willing to agree a very quick change in the regulations so that things can be absolutely clear before D-day and so that we have no stupid notices on buildings that have not needed them for the last 1,000 years.
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. The point that he made about regulations is interesting and I will put it to the Department of Health, but we require local authorities to be sensible in their approach and, as of this moment in time, we have no reason to believe that they will be otherwise.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Scottish Parliamentary Elections
The Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to report on the Scottish parliamentary elections. Following a request by the Scottish Executive, it will also report on the local government elections in Scotland. The commission has appointed an international specialist in electoral administration, Mr. Ron Gould, to lead a review of the elections. It announced the broad scope of the review on 14 May and further details are being announced today. I have asked the commission to place details of the approach and the timetable in the Library of the House.
My hon. Friend will be aware that I have little faith in the Electoral Commission and think that it gets into all sorts of areas that it should not, but surely if there is any point at all in the commission it must sort out the debacle in Scotland, which was more characteristic of a banana republic. Can we have assurances that the report will be robust and quick?
Indeed. Mr. Ron Gould’s report will be independent and it will be published in full. He has been asked to look at all aspects of the elections, but with a particular focus on the high number of rejected ballots, the electronic counting process, the arrangements for postal voting, the decision to hold parliamentary and local government polls on the same day, the decision to combine the two parliamentary votes on one ballot sheet, the process by which key decisions were made and the role of the Electoral Commission itself in the preparation of the elections.
Bearing in mind the fact that the Electoral Commission bears much of the responsibility for the fiasco in Scotland, should there not be a fully independent inquiry, in which the Electoral Commission plays no part, so that we can get to the root of what happened, rather than having the same people making the same decisions and looking into the same issue?
It is true that Parliament has laid on the Electoral Commission two specific sets of responsibilities: one is to assist in the electoral process and advise returning officers, and the other is to report on elections. When the Electoral Commission makes a report and it has itself been involved in the matter in an operational role, it is always its practice to appoint an outside expert to advise on that so that its own role can also be scrutinised.
In the long list of things that the Electoral Commission will look into with regard to the Scottish elections, the hon. Gentleman did not mention proxy voting. He mentioned postal voting and there were problems with that, but in my constituency, where I have a large a number of constituents who work offshore, it has become increasingly clear that those people applied for postal votes when they should have been encouraged to apply for proxy votes. There was little information or publicity about proxy votes versus postal votes, and the importance of a proxy vote for those who were going to be away from home for some time before the election.
It is quite true that the issue of proxy voting was not in the list that I gave to the House. However, Mr. Gould will be instructed to look at all aspects of the elections and I will undertake to ensure that the hon. Lady’s point is drawn to his attention.
The Electoral Reform Society has claimed that the Scottish local government elections, in which as many as 45,000 people may have been disfranchised, were a “resounding success”. Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that, whatever form the report from the Electoral Commission takes, it contains a good deal more intellectual rigour than that report?
I have looked at Mr. Gould’s curriculum vitae. He has an exceptional record of supervising, or assisting at, more than 100 elections in 70 different countries. I am confident that he will produce a rigorous report. Of course, it is the Electoral Commission’s statutory duty to report. Mr. Gould’s review will inform the Electoral Commission’s report.
Will my hon. Friend encourage Mr. Gould in particular to examine carefully the security of the postal vote system and to make urgent recommendations on how we can prevent its misuse?
The Electoral Commission has gone on record as saying that it would prefer to have individual registration, which it thinks would assist in tightening the postal voting system. However, I will ensure that Mr. Gould’s attention is drawn to the specific point raised by my right hon. and learned Friend.
Because two different voting systems were to be used, the Arbuthnott report recommended that the Scottish local and parliamentary elections should not take place on the same day. It said that that would reduce complexity and confusion and restrict the number of invalid ballot papers, yet the Labour party chose to blunder on, which led to many thousands losing their votes. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Electoral Commission’s report will investigate how that could have happened and exactly who was responsible?
It really is disconcerting that many of the problems that arose on 3 May were not only foreseeable, but foreseen. In 2004, the then Secretary of State for Scotland set up the Arbuthnott commission to examine the problems arising from having four separate voting systems in Scotland. My hon. Friend is correct that the commission recommended that the parliamentary and local elections should not be held on the same day. The decision that they should be held on the same day was taken by the Scottish Executive.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
We have had no such meetings. Were we to meet, I would be happy to advise that the investment policies of the commissioners mean that our fund is now worth £5 billion. That is an increase of £2 billion over the past 10 years, which is coincident with my 10 years as Second Church Estates Commissioner.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his contribution to the good state of the Church’s finances.
In Christian Aid week, which was last week, Church members raised millions of pounds to fight global poverty. Christian Aid uses some of that money to campaign against companies that undermine development, or exploit workers or the environment in developing countries. Does not my hon. Friend think that it would be sensible for the Church Commissioners to meet another wing of the Church—Christian Aid—to ensure that their investments are not placed with companies that undermine development and the good work that Christian Aid members support through each year’s Christian Aid week?
We in the Church admire Christian Aid’s energy as it campaigns on a wide range of issues—from Darfur to the effects of climate change—and the work that was done last week. As my hon. Friend is aware, the commissioners’ investment policy is a matter for them. However, I have no difficulty in meeting Christian Aid in the non-too-distant future.
Some time ago, the Church used to have substantial investments in property, such as the MetroCentre in Gateshead. Will the hon. Gentleman advise the House of the ratio of property and share equity investments? Who advises the Church on those investments?
In 2006-07, the commissioners provided about 17.4 per cent. of the total stipends bill for all clergy and licensed lay workers on the central payroll. That compares with 15 per cent. in 2001.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is sometimes a perception that the Church of England is a bit like the NHS: free at the point of use for taxpayers? In reality, those of us who believe in the Church of England are happy and willing to support the clergy and realise that a free service will not be provided by the Church Commissioners. Although this is an established Church, there must be recognition of the fact that it still needs the support of those who regularly worship in Anglican churches and cathedrals.
My hon. Friend is right. In relation to the Church’s income, not a penny comes from the state, yet the Church costs about £1 billion a year to run. In relation to the stipends, £34.3 million comes from the Church. The rest comes from dioceses and parishes. We welcome their efforts and we are grateful to them. They make a significant contribution to the work of the Church of England.
Public Accounts Commission
The Chairman was asked—
Private Finance Initiative
How confident is my right hon. Friend that the National Audit Office has adequate resources to do a proper job, in the light of the fact that continuing abject failures of PFI projects attract little interest from the NAO, whose critiques of these matters are often timid, lame, vacuous apologia for a concept that I devoutly hope the incoming Prime Minister will promptly abandon?