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Golden Jubilee

11. Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale): What meetings she has held with officials at Buckingham palace regarding the celebrations for the Queen's golden jubilee. [43152]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): I have had a number of meetings since taking over responsibility for the jubilee celebrations. My officials are in contact with the palace on a daily basis.

Mr. Hall: May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the international fun in athletics team event on 5 July in the millennium stadium in Cardiff, organised by UK Athletics under the leadership of my good friend, George Bunner? It will bring teams from the UK and South Africa together in a decathlon event that will have worldwide coverage and be a great way of celebrating the Queen's golden jubilee. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it will be a great vehicle to export the idea of the jubilee across the Commonwealth?

Tessa Jowell: That is but one opportunity, and it chimes well with the themes of the jubilee that the Queen has set and that are very much shaping the planning of events over the jubilee weekend and throughout the rest of the year.


The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Voting Age

29. Bob Spink (Castle Point): What recent discussions the Electoral Commission has had with the Government on the reduction of the minimum age for voting. [43172]

Mr. A. J. Beith (representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission): The commission has been working closely with the Government's children and young people's unit on the "Y vote, Y not?" project, which is consulting young people about measures to encourage increased participation in elections. One suggestion is to reduce the minimum voting age. The commission has told the Government that it intends in due course to reconsider that as part of its programme of reviewing electoral law and practice.

Bob Spink: I am delighted by that reply, which represents a sound way forward. The right hon. Gentleman will know of the public's disenchantment with

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politics in general and of young people's disengagement in particular. It is right that we should consult widely with young people in considering that important issue.

Mr. Beith: The commission will note with interest the hon. Gentleman's comments, which are somewhat in line with my own views.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): If we are asking people to fight in Afghanistan at the age of 19, should not we think about allowing them to vote at 16?

Mr. Beith: I cannot disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but the commission has to take into account a variety of views. Several different views are represented even within the Government.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Will the right hon. Gentleman take in one of those views now? Although it is absolutely correct to encourage young people to take an interest and participate in voting, many people feel that it would not be sensible to reduce the minimum voting age.

Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman's different point of view will have been noted by the commission.


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

Sex Discrimination Act

30. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): What recent discussions the Church Commissioners have had to bring the Church of England within the jurisdiction of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. [43173]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): Although there is no general exemption in the Sex Discrimination Act for the Church of England, the Act contains a limited exemption for cases where that is necessary to comply with a religious body's doctrines or to avoid offending the religious susceptibilities of a significant number of its members.

Mr. Edwards: My hon. Friend will appreciate that in Wales the ordination of women happened even later than in England. Does he agree that if the Church is to be relevant to modern society, women and men should have access to all jobs regardless?

Mr. Bell: The national Church institutions have a comprehensive equal opportunities policy that applies to all their employees and a rolling programme of diversity awareness training for staff. As regards the ordination of women priests, the Church aims to follow best practice in so far as the provisions of employment law apply.

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Church Maintenance

32. Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to encourage individual parochial church councils to undertake maintenance of church buildings. [43175]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): Parishes can draw upon the advice of the Council for the Care of Churches but need no encouragement, if money can be found, to maintain or repair our nation's churches, the general condition of which are a credit to the work that they carry out.

Mr. Mitchell: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but does he accept that the problem rests principally on rural churches, where there are particularly sparse congregations, and on some of our great inner-city churches, where the local congregations are not as wealthy as in other areas? Will he reflect, with me, on the joy and pleasure in the royal town of Sutton Coldfield that our town church, which needed to raise £70,000 for roof repairs, has been successful in raising that money by various means, not least the generosity and good sense of my constituents?

Mr. Bell: The hon. Gentleman makes a pertinent point. Demographic changes mean that there are churches where there is no population. A diminution in traditional building skills means that simple works cost disproportionately more than in the past. We welcome his statement about his church in Sutton Coldfield. He is right: by virtue of huge voluntary fund-raising efforts by churchgoers, friends associations, local communities and others, and to a lesser extent the welcome support of the state, such costs are being met in the manner to which he referred.


33. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): How many accidents involving hunting with dogs on Church lands have been notified to them since 1995. [43176]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): None.

Mr. Prentice: Is there an obligation on the tenants of Church land to report accidents to the Church Commissioners and if not, why not? Is not it about time that the Church of England showed some moral leadership on the issue and banned hunting with dogs on its land? Finally—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has put two supplementary questions. He is only entitled to one.

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to you for your protection, Mr. Speaker. Two in a court of law is quite sufficient; three in the House of Commons is overwhelming.

Any accidents on Church land would be referred to the Church Commissioners. In relation to foxhunting on Church land, existing tenancies may not be altered unilaterally but it may be possible to make provisions in

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new tenancies. The enforcement of any ban on foxhunting by the commissioners as landlords would be difficult and could undermine our relationship with tenants.

I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) is in the Chamber. The Church Commissioners will support and follow any legislation that is passed in both Houses of Parliament.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what consultation has been held with tenants of Church land as to whether they are in favour of hunting with hounds?

Mr. Bell: The position of the Church Commissioners is that our long-standing policy on foxhunting is to allow our tenants to follow their consciences in deciding whether to allow hunts on the land that we entrust to their care.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): A number of clergy support hunting. Does my hon. Friend think it strange that so-called men of God should take pleasure from seeing one of God's creatures ripped to pieces for their fun?

Mr. Bell: That was a short question. The Church recognises many differences on theological issues and many differences on foxhunting.


The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Voter Participation

34. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): What consideration the Electoral Commission has given to the use of incentives to encourage voter participation in elections. [43177]

Mr. A. J. Beith (representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission): Consideration of the use of financial or other individual incentives to encourage voter participation is not currently part of the commission's planned review programme. However, I understand that the commission gave evidence to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions earlier this year on a proposal from Blackburn with Darwen council for a pilot scheme linked to the May 2002 local elections that would have involved entering all electors in a prize draw. The commission concluded that the proposed scheme did not fall within the legal framework for electoral pilot schemes set out in the Representation of the People Act 2000.

Kevin Brennan: Rather than considering ideas such as compulsory voting, would not it be better to offer incentives for people to vote? Perhaps we could have a good citizens tax credit or a free lottery ticket—as in the suggestion described by the right hon. Gentleman—on the basis that, for citizenship, the carrot would be better than the stick.

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Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view but I believe that such proposals would face many legal and some ethical obstacles. Several other pieces of legislation might bear on them. As I said, the Electoral Commission has no current plans to conduct a review on the feasibility of introducing such proposals, but is considering a wide range of initiatives to encourage voter participation and to make the process of voting more accessible and user-friendly.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, for those for whom financial incentives are beyond the pale, a cheap—indeed, free—incentive would be to allow voters to vote at any polling station? In this age of modern technology, it must be possible for lists to be available at any polling station. Would the commission look into that?

Mr. Beith: The commission is looking into the possibility of voters being able to vote at more than one polling station.

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