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

Churches/Cathedrals (Accessibility)

1. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What guidelines are given by the commissioners to the councils of churches and cathedrals concerning the   accessibility of such buildings to people other than those wishing to worship. [222790]

Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): The commissioners recognise that our churches and cathedrals are not just for worshippers; they attract millions of visitors, generating £91 million a year for the   economy and supporting 2,600 jobs. Our cathedrals   and churches bring educational, musical, artistic and community activity, as well as the spiritual. The commissioners are therefore happy to encourage such accessibility.

Michael Fabricant: Would the hon. Gentleman be surprised to hear that, in Lichfield cathedral, for example, there were 83 concerts last year? Some 5,000 people attended those concerts and recitals and a further 10,000 people came to the Close in Lichfield to visit the mediaeval market. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there needs to be some co-operation between cathedrals so that best practice can be adopted?
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Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, and the applause that he received from those around him would indicate that he may have some difficulties at the general election. I presume that that is not necessarily the case.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, I visited Lichfield cathedral last year, and I listened to a concert and also saw many mediaeval books in the library. It was a significant and impressive experience. Certainly, the cathedrals would wish to work together in best practice, but when we see people coming to our churches and cathedrals for purposes other than worship, we enjoy the idea that they might also participate in the worship—but not in the middle of a Mozart concert.


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

Unitary Authorities (Ballots)

2. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Whether the   commission has given advice on ballots for the establishment of unitary authorities. [222791]

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) : I am informed by the   Electoral Commission that, in last November's referendum in the north-east region, its statutory responsibilities included commenting on the questions in relation to the establishment of unitary authorities and advising on the clarity of the ballot papers. However, the Electoral Commission has not provided general advice on ballots for the establishment of unitary authorities.

John Mann: Some of us did not particularly want regional government, but we would be quite happy to hold ballots on unitary authorities. Is that not exactly the kind of thing that the Electoral Commission should turn its eye to?

Mr. Viggers: The Electoral Commission has a limited role as a precursor to the Government's proposals for referendums on elected regional assemblies in the three northern regions. The boundary committee for England was directed by the Deputy Prime Minister to carry out a local government review and to set out options for unitary government structures in the north-east, the north-west, and Yorkshire and the Humber. However, that was the result of a direction from the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Electoral Commission does not give advice on unitary authorities. That is a matter for the Deputy Prime Minister.

Electoral Participation

3. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): What recent representations have been received by the commission on increasing participation in elections among young people.
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Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) : The commission tells me that it receives frequent requests for information, advice and assistance on increasing young people's participation in elections. It has an extensive programme to raise understanding and awareness of the democratic process among young people.

Bob Spink: I am grateful for that response. Is the hon.   Gentleman aware of the excellent work done by the Foyer Federation, which produced the booklet, "Opening doors for young people"? Only 39 per cent. of people under 25 voted in the last election and we must do something spectacular to raise that level. Does he think that a TV campaign targeted at young people might help to increase their participation in the democratic process?

Mr. Viggers: Yes, the commission recognises that young people are a key audience for its voter awareness activities and has set up dedicated programmes of activities and campaigns to address that. More can always be done, but hon. Members will agree that the commission must balance the needs of key audiences and the population in general within the budget provided.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): The Electoral Commission is keen on text voting, internet voting and so on as a way of driving up participation by young people. Is there not a problem in that those new methods of voting could compromise the integrity of the secret ballot? If we move away from the cardinal principle that people vote in secret, democracy is in peril.

Mr. Viggers: Well, indeed. The House knows that a   lot of work went into the creation of the secret ballot,   the whole point of which was summarised by H.S. Chapman, one of the prime movers of the secret ballot, who said:

We all recognise that postal voting can do a great deal to drive up participation in elections, but it is important, as the hon. Gentleman said, that we do not lose the golden thread.


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

Church Finances

4. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to ensure good management of the Church's financial affairs.

Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): In the first instance, by appointing the Second Church Estates Commissioner so that he can be answerable to the House. In the second instance and in relation to those Church funds which commissioners
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manage and which stand at £4 billion, by maintaining a balanced investment portfolio with annual review of asset allocation.

Hugh Bayley: Now that the Charities Bill has passed through this place and is being considered by the other place, can my hon. Friend assure me that the financial affairs of Anglican cathedrals will be better managed in future, to avoid the sort of problems that arose with Bradford cathedral recently when its insolvency left a number of my constituents, who worked for a company called Past Forward, unpaid for work that they had done for the cathedral?

Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and congratulate him on his interest in Bradford cathedral on behalf of his constituents. He and I had many meetings at that time. As I explained to him then, cathedrals are independent bodies, governed by the Cathedrals Measure 1999, so the commissioners' remit does not run to their supervision or to accepting liability on their behalf.

On the Charities Bill, let us hope that it enters the statute book before the Dissolution of Parliament, whenever that comes. In the meantime, my hon. Friend will know that the commissioners have had helpful talks with the Home Office on the Charities Bill and are satisfied with it.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that good management of the Church's finances also means ethical investment so that every investment using dead men's money, which largely subsidises the Church's activities, is made on the basis of sound ethical investment, without investment in companies that are involved in the arms trade or are poor employers in this country?

Sir Stuart Bell: The commissioners' investment policy is of long standing. It is an ethical policy and we do not invest in breweries, cigarettes or arms, as my hon. Friend knows. We are keen on corporate governance and look at companies' corporate governance. We even have corporate governance within the commission. His point is well taken and is in line with our policy. We have an ethical policy on investment and that will continue, although it is, like all our policies, reviewed from time to time.

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