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In the latest edition of Hansard there are some more interesting written answers.

Shadow DEFRA minister Anne McIntosh wanted to know about the impact of the recession on giving to churches:

"To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners what assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the effect of the current economic climate on levels of giving to parishes (a) via the collection plate and (b) otherwise; and if he will make a statement. [254221]

Sir Stuart Bell: Over the last 30 years church members have increased giving as a proportion of net income from 1 per cent. to over 3 per cent., so there is still some way to go to achieve General Synod’s 5 per cent. target. Clearly church members will, like everyone else be affected by the present economic difficulties and the dioceses and Archbishops’ Council are monitoring the situation closely. The high proportion who give by regular standing order provides some measure of resilience, but these are uncertain times, particularly with other sources of Church income also under pressure."

Shadow Justice Secretary and Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve asked about the powers of the Electoral Commission:

"To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission what administrative financial penalties may be levied by the Electoral Commission. [253588]

Sir Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission has powers to issue civil penalties under section 147 of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) where a relevant organisation is late in delivering a statutory report to the Commission. The amount of the civil penalty is calculated in accordance with subsection 3 of section 147, and depends on how late the relevant information is provided to the Commission.

The Electoral Commission is also able to apply to a magistrates court to order the forfeiture of an amount equal to the value of a donation that has been accepted by a registered party or regulated donee, if the donation was impermissible or a court is satisfied that the true amount of a donation was intentionally concealed."

Mr Grieve also uncovered that fact that 150 courts have closed since 1997:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many (a) courts and (b) hearing centres have closed in each year since 1997. [253582]

Bridget Prentice: Up until the 1 April 2005 magistrates courts were the responsibility of locally managed magistrates courts committees who were statutorily independent. They were not required by statute to inform the Department of closures that were not subject to an appeal under section 56(3) of the Justices peace Act 1997 (now repealed).

The following table shows details of court closures within Her Majesty’s Courts’ Service, (including Crown, magistrates and county courts) since 1997.

Closures

Magistrates court Crown court (satellites ) County court Total court

1997

21

1

8

30

1998

25

0

6

31

1999

7

1

2

10

2000

13

0

4

17

2001

30

0

1

31

2002

7

0

2

9

2003

13

0

0

13

2004

2

0

0

2

2005

0

0

0

0

2006

1

0

1

2

2007

2

1

0

3

2008

2

0

0

2

2009 to date

0

0

0

0

Total

150

It is very odd that Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s question could not be answered:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many and what percentage of personnel who left the armed forces in each year since 2002 had served in Iraq or Afghanistan. [253719]

Mr. Quentin Davies [holding reply 3 February 2009]: The information is not held in the format requested and could be provided only at disproportionate cost."

Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt asked about TV licensing:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how much TV Licensing spent on public relations in each of the last three years. [249805]

Andy Burnham: The BBC has a statutory responsibility for the administration of the television licensing system. Under contract to the corporation, TV Licensing carries out the day to day administration of these duties.

“TV Licensing” is a trading name used by companies contracted by the BBC to administer the collection of television licence fees and enforcement of the television licensing system. TV Licensing’s marketing and public relations activities are carried out by the AMV consortium, which is made up of the following four companies: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO Ltd, Fishburn Hedges Boys Williams Limited (who are responsible for TV Licensing’s public relations activities), PHD Media Limited and Proximity London Ltd.

The BBC considers that release of the information requested would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of parties within, and connected to, this arrangement, as well as the BBC itself, as it would reveal valuable information on pricing structures, business structures and operations to these companies’ competitors."

Perhaps the BBC might like to make this adjustment to public relations over TV licensing: stopping sending out bullying letters, especially to people who actually do have a licence or don’t have a television. I myself got several such missives when I was living without a TV, and I found them extremely offensive. I imagine they cause vulnerable people a great deal of distress.

The debate on the merits of the licence fee itself is ongoing, but the BBC could cut out these unpleasant letters immediately.

Tom Greeves

6 comments for: Written answers round-up, including: 150 courts have closed since 1997 and some advice for the BBC

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