Previous Section Home Page

Column 1311

Harlington that he might consider symbolically deducting 20 per cent. of his prize and giving it to charity so that it does not go to the Arts Council.

Mr. Dicks: I should like to tell my hon. Friend in all honesty that I give something like £3,000 to £4,000 to charities, especially those supporting people with spinal injuries, which I am happy to talk about in this place, and children with leukaemia. The fact that a percentage of the £30 has gone to the luvvies and the arty-farty people does not worry me too much because most of the money, with qualification, goes to good causes.

Mr. Sproat: My hon. Friend's position is well known in the House, as is the fact that he gives extremely generously to charities and works hard for them. We greatly respect that.

The lottery turnover increased from its average of £48 million in the first three weeks to more than £61 million last week--a rise of almost 30 per cent. Thus the contribution to good causes increased by a similar percentage from £12.5 million to £16 million. Those are the hard figures. The excitement generated by so large a jackpot to be won gave that amount to the good causes and the prime purpose of the lottery is to help to fund them.

A third concern about the lottery has been that it represents unfair competition for charities, the pools companies, bookies and other people in the gambling industry. Research conducted before the introduction of the lottery suggested that money to buy lottery tickets would come from many sectors of consumer spending, including confectionary, magazines and soft drinks, rather than from within the gambling market or as an alternative to charitable donations. After just four weeks of the lottery, it is far too early to say what exactly the effects have been on spending in other sectors. One early report suggested that income for the football pools had not declined in the wake of the lottery, but I understand that more recent figures may paint a different picture. Similarly, different charities have described different experiences since the lottery was launched. Some have seen their income fall; others have not. Even in the case of charities whose income has fallen in the past month since the lottery began, it is not proven that the lottery was the cause of the fall. Clearer patterns, however, may emerge over a longer period.

I should like to emphasise that it is inevitable, when so major an innovation as a national lottery is introduced, that details will go wrong. There may be elements that time will show need to be changed. The Government will monitor closely and carefully what happens and, after appropriate periods, if we are convinced that elements need changing, we shall not hesitate, with the agreement of the House, to change them.

Mr. Nigel Evans: My hon. Friend mentioned the pools industry. Many thousands of jobs are involved in that industry throughout the country and many of them are concentrated in the north-west. We are yet to have the exact figures, but there is a great fear of a drop in pools companies' income. Does he agree that those companies should be given the opportunity at least to advertise the pools on television in exactly the same way as the national lottery is advertised not only on ITV but on the BBC,

Column 1312

where it is given plenty of free advertising? I hope that that is a forerunner for the BBC taking advertising to relieve pensioners and people on fixed incomes from having to pay the licence fee in the first place.

Mr. Sproat: My hon. Friend makes an important point and it is one that the Pools Promoters Association has put to the Government. The Government have considered it. During the lotteries debate, various concessions were made to the pools companies. The age of people who are allowed to take part in the pools has been reduced to 16; pools tickets are able to be sold in shops; and a roll-over in the pools jackpot has been allowed. The pools company can roll over its jackpot for the same length of time as the national lottery. For the first time, the pools companies are allowed to sponsor programmes on television.

Those are four major concessions that we have already given to the pools. I know that the pools companies appreciate that; I also know that they want more. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) makes an important case and we shall look at it. We really need to see what happens. We cannot start making major changes after just four weeks. We must let things settle down and if they turn out not to be right, we shall willingly look at them again.

Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth): Some scare stories are being put around because the national lottery is such a great success. I do not expect my hon. Friend to give me an answer to this question from the Dispatch Box. Will he look at the extent of the gross national product deflator that the lottery may be producing in terms of taking money out of the system? That will have an effect on circulation and on the GNP multiplier. Will he give me an answer at an appropriate time?

Mr. Sproat: I undertake that as soon as I have looked at my hon. Friend's contribution in Hansard and understood it, I shall come back to the question.

Mr. Tony Banks: My question is a lot easier. Will the Minister also look at another area of activity that may be affected--the bingo industry? There are some fears that it, too, could be affected. Why not allow bingo organisers to offer prizes higher than those to which they are limited now? Bingo is a very working-class activity, certainly in my part of the world. The bingo organisers need to be protected as far as possible.

Mr. Sproat: I shall look at that point. In a speech the other day, I rashly said that the pools promoters had wanted their position to be improved and that I would, no doubt, be hearing from the bookies by the first post next morning. There turned out to be a bookie in the audience and he did, indeed, write to me the next day. I had the pleasure of speaking to a representative from the bookies and this week, I spoke to a representative from William Hill. The bookies put a strong case for why we should look at the impact of the lottery on them. Equally, I shall gladly look at the bingo industry, if one can call it such. If the hon. Member for Newham, North-West or any other hon. Member wants to bring a delegation to me, I shall gladly meet them.

Column 1313

I began by saying that I intended to speak relatively briefly.

Mr. Dicks: It has been an hour now.

Mr. Sproat: A very good hour, if I may say so. I intended to speak for 12 to 15 minutes, but the interest of the House has caused me to prolong my speech. I think that the time has now come to say farewell.

Some 3.5 million people have already won prizes. More than £53 million has already been deposited in the national lottery distribution fund. The proceeds for good causes are growing at approximately £2 million a day. The prospects of funding for the arts, sports and the heritage have never been better. In addition, the lottery has proved itself to be a huge success. The Government confidently expect it to remain so.

10.32 am

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central): The Minister has spoken in his usual relaxed, friendly and even emollient style for a considerable time. As he says, that reflects the interest in the subject among hon. Members. He has, however, been verging on the bland and complacent when talking about the many problems that have arisen in the past month. We welcome his clarification on the millennium fund and his clarification of the impact on charities, pools and bingo. I shall come back to those points in a moment. The Minister made some interesting but extremely unsatisfactory comments about anonymity and press ethics and about the roll -over and the problems of the size of the jackpot. We welcome Oflot's inquiry into anonymity and we hope that it will be concluded speedily. We certainly welcome the fact that the Press Complaints Commission will look into the matter at the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), the shadow Secretary of State for National Heritage. I hope that the Government too will look at the matter with some stringency.

There are things that the Government could do. We need a privacy Act, as the Government have known for some time. They have been thinking about it and saying that they will do something while several Secretaries of State have come and gone; we still have not got there. Generally, members of the public have no protection in law from harassment by the press. They should have that protection and the Government must respond quickly. If they do not, this new Department will not look on top of the job when it comes to dealing with the press. For the Minister to say that he is thinking about a response to Calcutt is ridiculous. The report was published about three years ago. It is about time that the Government responded because many of the problems need to be worked out quickly. The Minister's comments about Camelot were surprising and bland. We must wait until the inquiry reports as there is no evidence yet that Camelot has leaked the identity of the winner. The inquiry will establish whether it did so. If, as the Minister says, Camelot has given out a few bits of information, it has been either very naive or very stupid. It is clear that the press is sufficiently bright that a few bits of information are enough, as the Minister has said, to identify the person who has sought anonymity. If that is true, the Government must take a strong line with Camelot. The mistake cannot be repeated.

Column 1314

The Minister said that he was advised that, mathematically, a roll-over was extremely unusual. We accept that it is difficult to get a compromise between the size of the jackpot and some restraint on it. The general way in which the Government sought to do that was correct. It is clear, however, that the limit to three roll-overs is not working. The Minister chewed over the problem, but he did not reach any conclusions. The Government must exercise themselves a good deal more energetically. The roll-over is a problem and I do not believe that this week is the last time we shall have an £18 million jackpot.

Some people, like my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), reckon that the roll-over is a good thing. Most people to whom I have spoken believe that it is a bit tacky. The jackpot's credibility will become slightly soiled when the sums are enormous. On both points, the Government must say something a good deal more definite. They must not just interestedly consider the matter, as the Minister has done today, but address the problems with a good deal more urgency. I do not believe that the Minister has satisfied the House on this. He has ignored many other major problems that have arisen in the first month. I hope that at the end of the debate the Minister will take a far stronger, more urgent and more energetic attitude to the problems.

Mr. Nigel Evans: If it could be proved that, with the roll-over, so many more people were participating in the lottery that extra money was earned for the good causes, would the hon. Gentleman still say that the top prize should be limited, thereby denying the good causes all the extra cash?

Mr. Fisher: It is arguable whether we should have huge prizes and pay-outs, as we had this week, or more large ones. After all, £1 million, £2 million or £3 million is a huge amount to any of us. The mathematics of happiness are ambiguous. Would more large pay-outs encourage more sales, or would sales be boosted more by an occasional mega win, as we have had this week? It is an arguable point that we could go on debating. I am not sure how the mathematics of happiness or incentive work on this.

The Government have chosen a strange topic for debate the day after--they knew that it was going to be the day after--their humiliating defeat in the Dudley, West by-election. Last week, the chairman of the Conservative party threw in the towel in an unprecedented way and said that he knew that the Conservatives had lost. The Government knew that they would face problems today and they chose this debate. They could have chosen anything. They could have chosen to debate Europe, for example, VAT on fuel or the behaviour of British Gas towards its chief executive. They could have chosen to debate the fact that while British Gas pays £200,000 extra to its chief executive, it is cutting its retail staff's wages and holidays. They did not choose those topics; they chose the national lottery, presumably because they reckoned that it was a safe and easy subject. The lottery is popular and has no political

Column 1315

problems, so they thought that they could just sit there. The Minister's speech and his relaxed demeanour show that he thinks that he is in for an easy time.

Mr. Jessel: In that case, why did we not have the debate before the by-election?

Mr. Fisher: That is a very good point. If I understand the Government's psychology, I suspect that they would like to debate this subject indefinitely. The Minister's hour-long speech certainly suggested that they would like the debate to continue for ever. The Government underestimated the issue, however, and when they chose the debate they certainly did not foresee this week's papers being full of injunctions, writs, inquiries and the Press Complaints Commission. More substantial problems may arise. It is perhaps a fact of life that when things go wrong for the Government, they do so on every subject, and they are even getting this one wrong.

As we emphasised on Second Reading and in Committee, we welcome the national lottery. The millions of people who enter it each week, the 15 million people who watch the draw on television and most of the press coverage--apart from this week's coverage--show that it is popular. The Minister's expression that it is gripping the public's imagination was slightly florid, but it is certainly popular, and in that sense it is a success.

Mr. Maclennan: I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman reassert that the Labour party fully supports the lottery. Is it happy about the redistributing effects of the lottery?

Mr. Fisher: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point and I shall deal with exactly that problem in a moment.

The applications to the five boards that are likely to flow in from the beginning of next year certainly show that the money is needed. It is needed for the good causes because of Government neglect. Historic buildings are falling down, theatres are not being built or are in a bad state of repair and libraries, cinemas and sports grounds are not available in many cities because for 15 years the Government have done nothing about those issues. The good causes are needed to shore up the Government because, particularly in culture, sport and recreation, the Government have not done their job. The national lottery is band aid for their poor policies.

There are other problems. The scale of money, the fact that, although it is public money, it is the boards' money to all intents and purposes and the importance of the causes that will benefit emphasise that the lottery is not just a bit of fun, as much of the debate seems to suggest, but an important public issue that we have to get right. In many crucial ways, the Government have not got it right. They rushed into it and tried to get it running as quickly as possible because they saw that good things could come from it and, as has been shown in speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House, they have not thought out many of the problems. They have not got the administration right.

It is a matter of public accountability and credibility for the lottery and for the Government. If the public are not satisfied that the lottery is properly devised, set up and

Column 1316

administered, confidence in it will wane and it will cease to be a success. None of us wants that to happen, so it has to be properly set up, and in many ways that is not so.

There are four basic tests by which we can assess what has happened. We need to ask whether the national lottery has been free of political interference and pressure as it needs to be seen to be independent. Secondly, its finance and administration need to be openly and efficiently run, and the finance should be fairly and properly divided on a decent basis. There should also be clear policies for the management and distribution of the receipts to those good causes, which should generally meet public approval. The consequences and the effect on redistribution, on other aspects of public policy and on other bodies such as pools promoters, bingo and the media should have been carefully thought through and anticipated--or, if not anticipated, responded to. The Government have not done very well on any of those concerns and there are doubts about all four. Too many questions are unanswered, too many issues are unresolved and too many aspects are capable of going wrong. It is not for nothing that the logo chosen for the national lottery is crossed fingers: those crossed fingers belong to the Government. They have their fingers crossed that it will all work out and it will be the popular success--for them--that they hoped it would be, but that attitude of "Let us hope for the best", symbolised by the crossed fingers, is not good enough for a Government and we need something a good deal sharper.

Let us look at what has happened. The Government clearly hoped that the lottery would be a weekly fairy tale of a nice family or person winning huge sums of money, good causes benefiting and everybody being happy. It should have been a wonderful thing, but the events of this week show that, in certain circumstances, it can turn into a weekly nightmare. It appears that there is a danger at least that the entire enterprise is beginning to crumble in the Government's hands. Writs and injunctions have been issued, Oflot is conducting an inquiry, the Press Complaints Commission is involved and complaints have been made about the quality of the BBC's coverage.

The first money that the charity paid out was £19,000 to sack and pay off an extremely distinguished person with a long record in charitable work who did not meet with the personal approval of the millennium commissioners. It is ridiculous that the first money paid to the lottery should have been for that purpose.

The National Lottery Charities Board is in a shambles and a state of unpreparedness. It is understandable that charity organisations all over the country are becoming increasingly disturbed and angry. There are reports that rural areas are being ignored in the number of outlets--I note that Conservative Members are nodding in agreement--and there is real concern that, despite the Government's protestations, because of how the boards have been set up, small organisations around the country will be squeezed out by the big, glamorous and well-prepared ones. They are all real problems that the Government have not considered.

In introducing the national lottery, the Prime Minister said: "Every man and woman in this country can be a direct beneficiary, not just the great and the good."

We all hope that that will be so, but the way in which the Government have set it up makes that less rather than more likely.

Column 1317

Let us consider the four tests that I mentioned. Has the national lottery been set up in a way that is politician proof? The 1978 Rothschild commission, which examined the potential of lotteries, emphasised that any lottery should be free from direct Government interference, but this lottery has the Government's hands all over it.

The Government will be the winner every week. They have a huge political and financial interest in the lottery, and to protect that interest they have an interest in it being a success and in their getting the credit for that. For that reason, the smallest, but perhaps most important of the boards--the Millennium Commission--is chaired by the Secretary of State for National Heritage and another Cabinet Minister, the President of the Board of Trade, is a member in a personal capacity. If we are to have a test of political interference and independence, why on earth are two Cabinet Ministers dominating the Millennium Commission?

When the Secretary of State answered a question on Mr. Hinton's sacking from his post as chief executive of the Millennium Commission, he behaved as though he had nothing to do with it. He said that the commission had made the decision. He was the chairman and all the press reports suggest that his falling out with Mr. Hinton led to his departure.

The Government have become far too enmeshed in the details. I am not sure whether it is appropriate that the Secretary of State should be chairing the Millennium Commission, nor that so many supporters and members of the Conservative party should be on it. The brother of the Secretary of State for the Environment chairs the arts board distribution body. He has a good reputation in the arts and is a member of the Arts Council, but his appointment certainly raises questions about so many active Conservatives being on boards. The Minister spoke about political balance on the Millennium Commission, but it is a bit of a joke to describe one to nine as a political balance. I am not sure whether there should be any political balance; I think such matters should be independent of the Government and by talking about political balance the Minister is implicitly admitting that it is a political matter and that the Government have their sticky fingers all over it.

Mr. Sproat: I did not say that there was a political balance. There is a geographic balance and we had to try to get a proper balance of other interests. There are representatives from different parts of the United Kingdom. I should have thought that the Opposition would welcome the fact that at least one member of the body was specifically appointed by them, although I would not pretend that one representative from the Opposition would make a political balance. In fact, I have no idea how the other people on the board vote. We did not try to construct a political balance; we just wanted some Opposition input.

Mr. Fisher: I think that the record will show that the Minister did talk about a political balance when he referred to the fact that Mr. Michael Montague was nominated by the late John Smith, the former Leader of the Opposition. It is a bit of a nonsense for the Minister to say that he does not know how the rest of the board votes when one or two of them have been Tory councillors--elected members of the Tory party.

Column 1318

The test of political independence has not been passed. It is a very politicised organisation. The Minister shakes his head, but the Secretary of State chairs one of the key boards that distributes money. We could not get more political and less independent than that.

Mr. Tony Banks: When the millennium arrives, we shall be into the second or third year of a Labour Government. I hope that this question is not presumptuous, but what proposals do we have for changing the way in which we approach the millennium, how it will be celebrated and what sort of people will make the decisions?

Mr. Fisher: My hon. Friend makes a good point. My speech will show the sort of changes that we expect to make in a number of respects. It is not just a question of the membership of the boards. We will not replace Tory appointees with Labour ones, but I suspect that my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State will need to step on to the Millennium Commission and inherit its chairmanship to put things right where they have gone wrong. The whole way in which it has been set up is quite suspect.

I come now to the second test of the quality of the financial set-up and management. There are already major question marks over the three-way split of receipts into prizes, good causes and profits. The profits go to both Camelot and the Government week after week. We have talked about the prizes in relation to this week's roll-over prize. Any gambler will tell the Minister that the lottery offers lousy gambling odds compared with any other form of gambling. It is interesting that the Government did not require some advice and warning about the odds at the point of sale. The size of the prizes in relation to the amount invested is very poor compared with other forms of betting, but it is with the profits that we are most concerned.

The Government have never answered our questions about why they thought that a private monopoly was the right way to handle the matter. What happens when Camelot recoups its initial investment in advertising and start-up costs? The Minister has only just begun to deal with that question. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) made an extremely good intervention about that early in the debate.

The lottery will be a success and the public will support it--and as from next year Camelot will be making horrendously enormous profits, that will become an embarrassment and will not improve credibility. If the estimates are right, over the seven years of its franchise Camelot will make £1.5 billion profit because it was given a franchise and a monopoly. Conservative Members are very keen on competition--

Mr. Derek Conway (Lords Commissioner to the Treasury): Camelot will pay tax on it.

Mr. Fisher: That was an intervention from a silent member of the Treasury Bench. Yes, Camelot will pay tax on the profits, but they will be 10 to 15 times higher than would normally be considered a successful return on a business investment. That raises questions. The Government should try to find a way of renegotiating some aspects of Camelot's contract. I am not sure whether that is possible, but it has certainly not been a good start.

Column 1319

There are also question marks over some of the smaller details. ICL has the contract for servicing the 35,000 terminals. Over the seven years, it will get £100 million for fulfilling its contract. There are reports that that is £65 million more than other bids for the contract. The Minister must tell us whether the reports are true and whether ICL was the most expensive company bidding. If so, why did it get the contract? I suspect that servicing those new machines, which were installed only last week, will not be an onerous job. If that £100 million bid was larger than any other, it shows that it was a very ill-thought-out contract.

Too much money is going to the Government. If the lottery is to have credibility, it must not be seen as a form of indirect and regressive taxation, taking from the poor to give, as some commentators have said, to the interests of the well-off and the rich. The Government will benefit week after week, so they must convince the public--they have not yet done so--that it is not backdoor taxation.

Ms Hoey: Does my hon. Friend agree that one way of sorting out the problems, confusions or even misconceptions that the Minister may say we have about the operating costs and the ICL contract would have been to have made everything public? The competitive bids and the contracts should have been made public. We did not see them so there is no real feeling that this was the best deal. Some of us think that there may have been better bids.

Mr. Fisher: I agree with my hon. Friend. She implicitly makes our case that there should be a Freedom of Information Act in Britain. When the Government rejected and talked out my Right to Know Bill last year, they introduced a White Paper on so-called open government. They said that they would open up and improve procedures. There was a good code of practice. The information that we have been requesting is just the sort of information that should be in the public domain. The fact that it is not makes a mockery of the Government's claims about open government.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman has made a strong plea for less political interference in the running of the national lottery, yet he now appears to be asserting that politicians should be able to probe and pry into the commercial contracts of the lottery operator, Camelot. Surely any commercial contract that it enters into is governed within the 5 per cent. that it takes and therefore does not seep through into the amount that charities, the good causes or even the tax man are getting.

Mr. Fisher: The hon. Gentleman will also recall that I said that this is public money and a very important public issue. When setting up such a major scheme, there is an absolute responsibility on the Government to ensure that that is done properly and fairly. There must be seen to be openness of procedures. The Government should have been more open about, for example, Oflot's scrutiny of all the constituent parts of Camelot, one of which is GTECH, an American company with a slightly questionable reputation. In 1991 it was involved in a corruption scandal by giving election donations to Senator Alan Robbins in relation to an interest in a lottery that was being set up. We never heard about that; the information came out by the back door.

Column 1320

There should have been a great deal more openness about who was involved in the organisation--there should have been a great deal more openness about all the aspects. This is a matter of public concern. If the Government are serious about open government, they should be open and serious about this matter.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman may be right when he says that this is a matter of public concern, but there seems to be some misunderstanding. We are talking not about public money, but about private money. Is the money that people put into, for example, the pools industry, public money?

Mr. Fisher: The whole enterprise is in the public domain. The money that will go to good causes and to the Government will certainly be public money. The Government have set up the lottery as a public network of structures. It is right that the Government should be accountable and should be questioned on whether they have got it right. I believe that, in certain ways, they have not. For example, the Government have not given enough thought to roll-overs. They have not given enough thought to the shambles of the millennium fund or the complete shambles of the National Lottery Charities Board, which the Minister ignored. The charities board will be the biggest area of activity. It says that more than 700,000 charities will be eligible to apply. It reckons that there will be 200,000 applications. It will probably pay out £100 million or £150 million a year. Charities are a key area and people are most concerned about it.

The board chairman was appointed four months ago, but the board has not yet published its guidelines. It says that it will not do so until the middle of next year. It will not invite applications until the middle of next year. Will the Minister give us a date by which the charities board will be operating? As yet, it has only temporary offices. Why is there such inefficiency and delay?

For more than a year, the Home Secretary has known that he, unlike the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage, is responsible for the board. The Department of National Heritage has got its act together reasonably well, with some qualifications, in running the four boards for which it is responsible, but the Home Secretary has not got the board up and running. It is ridiculous that money will go to the board for the next six months but nothing will be paid out. No wonder that charities throughout the country are angry.

Blame does not lie with the chairman of the charities board, Mr. David Sieff. I suspect that the blame lies with the Home Secretary. He must make a statement to the House about when the board will operate and why it has not been appointed before. It simply is not good enough to allow such a delay when he has known about his responsibility for some time.

The Act does not appear to contain much restraint on the administration costs that anyone can charge, and that needs to be looked at, but the principles of distribution are agreed: both large and small projects should benefit and the whole of the United Kingdom should benefit. That sounds simple, but I do not believe that it is as simple as it sounds, not least because on Monday the Secretary of State said at column 595 of Hansard that each application to the Millennium Commission would be judged "on its merits". That sounds sensible.

Column 1321

The ambitions to judge projects on their merits and to achieve a mixture of large and small projects spread over the United Kingdom seem to contradict each other. What if most of the bids that merit attention are big bids? I understand that one of the criteria should be a balance between large and small. If the Secretary of State and the boards judge applications only on their merits, they will be unlikely to fulfil that criterion and the criterion of achieving a UK-wide spread, which hon. Members on both sides of the House want to see put into effect.

The Secretary of State needs to make it much clearer that small organisations and non-London organisations will be regarded as having merit. That is the only way to guarantee that projects will be spread around the country. In certain respects, the way in which the Government have set up the charities board is terrifically balanced against small organisations. The big organisations have already prepared their bids. They have sophisticated, well-thought-out, well-prepared bids. They have the partnership money and they are raring to go. The smaller organisations have not prepared their bids, regardless of what board they are applying to. That is wrong. There is a built-in bias against small organisations and the Government must do something to correct that.

The Minister has talked about the Millennium Commission. We have already discussed the personal involvement of the Secretary of State. The Millennium Commission should pay particular attention to the mix of large and small. The Minister said that there would be only 12 large projects. I suspect that he accepts that those projects need to be started now. They will have to be commissioned in the very first year if projects such as the Tate gallery at Bankside--if it is successful in its bid--are to have a chance of meeting the criterion set by the millennium fund that they must be ready by the millennium.

The big 12 projects will all be started next year. It will be difficult to keep the balance between big and small. The Minister must say something about that when he replies to the debate. He should also explain why Mr. Nicholas Hinton was sacked. The Government have failed to explain that. If it was because he fell out with the Secretary of State on a personal basis because he was too strong a character, that is worrying in terms of what it tells us about the Secretary of State's personal involvement in the Millennium Commission. The Secretary of State refused to give reasons to the House at Question Time recently. That was not to his credit. He should give the House some explanation of why someone who came with a great reputation from the charities sector should have so instantly fallen out with the commissioners.

The Minister also has some answers to give--if he will pay attention--on exactly who will be eligible for receipts. In some areas it is not clear. Will libraries be eligible? If so, for funds from which board? When my office rang the Secretary of State's office yesterday, it understood that the heritage board would be the right place for libraries to apply to. The library world has not been told that. It needs to be told. I am not convinced that the heritage board is the right place.

One of the most interesting developments in recent years in the work of libraries, apart from information technology, is their increasing tendency to become wider cultural centres in which many arts activities take place. The Minister will be well aware of that from his travels around the country. There is a good case for some new

Column 1322

libraries that emphasise that role to apply to the arts board. The Minister must make clear to what boards, if any, public libraries should apply and for what reason. The reason should not be historic conservation. There is a pressing need for a new generation of public libraries in constituencies throughout the country. They need to know now to which board they should apply.

A question was asked about science at Question Time last Monday: to what board should scientific projects apply, apart from the Millennium Commission? Who is to judge that? Who will advise the Government? Will children's play projects be eligible and, if so, to which board should they apply? Every hon. Member knows from his or her constituency work how pressing is the need for children's play facilities. Children's play projects will be a constructive set of small projects, but it is not clear whether they should apply to any particular board. Will chess be eligible for funding from the sports board? The board has issued a list of eligible sports, but chess is not on it. Why? Chess is usually considered a sport. It is one in which Britain does well. Will the Minister comment on why it is not on the list?

Will the Minister also comment on the recent announcement by the Government and the Arts Council that film will be eligible for funds? What sort of film projects will be eligible? Will feature film production be eligible? Although the Opposition can see some case for increased funding for British screening, I am not sure that the millennium fund is the right pool of money for it to come from. If the basis of the Government's case is that film is a capital asset, that opens the door to investment in books, sculptures and other artefacts and products which could also be seen as capital assets. The Minister must think a great deal more carefully about the eligibility of film and what aspects of the film industry--buildings, archives or whatever--will be eligible.

Will English Heritage be eligible for heritage board pay-outs? If advisers are eligible, as they should be, they will be in the difficult position of advising the board that will make grants to them. The Minister must clarify English Heritage's position. The Government say that in certain circumstances, commercial organisations should be eligible, and I agree. I can envisage circumstances in which that would be to the public good. West end theatres are a crucial part of London's cultural economy. Some are in beautiful condition and some in a poor state. There could be good, constructive applications from theatres, but clear criteria and checks must be devised if public money is to go to private organisations. The Government must be much clearer about the constraints and parameters. They could be opening a dangerous door. There are many eligibility problems, and the Government should have addressed them long ago, but they failed to do so. They also failed to address multiple applications. Organisations have approached hon. Members saying that their projects appear to be eligible for several boards, and wanting to know the co-ordinating structure among boards. There cannot be co-ordination with the charities board because it is not paying out at the moment. Small projects as well as big will want to make multiple applications to several boards. The guidelines and ground rules are not clear.

Column 1323

Small groups are in every board's remit and are a key, but they are already feeling marginalised. The speed and complexity of planning and the need for partnership funding biases the enterprise against small organisations.

The Government must say something today about the problems of section 26 and the balance between capital and revenue funding. The Government started by saying that funding should be solely for capital projects but did not anticipate the problems that they were letting loose. That premise may be fine for heritage, where £1 billion of decaying buildings identified by the last Arts Council chairman, Lord Palumbo, can be addressed solely as a capital project that does not have many revenue consequences, but for the arts and sports boards the revenue consequences are enormous.

I refer to not only the running but the programming costs of new buildings. Many have pointed out that there is a danger of a generation of wonderful new buildings such as concert halls and sports stadiums, in which no concerts or other activities are undertaken because there is inadequate funding to run such events. The Secretary of State has not thought it through.

It is interesting that the Secretary of State's comments in the past few weeks have been moving towards allowing revenue funding in exceptional circumstances. He must spell it out. That is not adequately done in section 26. Unless the right hon. Gentleman explains that, there will be confusion and unfairness.

Most of those organisations will not be able to show adequate revenue funding and will not be financially viable. They are the two criteria that the right hon. Gentleman gave in the House the other day. Public support will be needed for programming and activities in buildings. What will the Government do about that? They cannot sit there and talk vaguely about "exceptional circumstances". They must be a great deal more precise; otherwise, there will be real problems.

If the Government do not have the solution now, they should be leading a debate. We cannot have magnificent facilities in future years without activities being undertaken in them. The Government have not considered additionality, to which the Minister referred. Conservative Members are already talking about that matter. On "Westminster" with Nick Ross this week, one Tory Member said that when £200,000 is going to the Arts Council from the lottery, the Government should cut its grant. At present, the Government will not do that, but that has occurred in other countries that run a lottery. If the Government do not want that to happen, they must take action now.

Mr. Dicks: The hon. Gentleman misrepresents me. I have been calling for the total abolition of the Department of National Heritage. That would be much more effective.

Mr. Fisher: The hon. Gentleman's ravings on that subject are well known to the public. No doubt we will have to hear them yet again today. I am sure he will make his points well.

The Government say that they will be firm on additionality, but they must do much more to convince the public. The integrity and credibility of the Sports Council, Arts Council, English Heritage and national heritage memorial fund are at risk if, as happened with

Column 1324

the Sports Council, grants are cut. The Minister did not address that point properly. The grant has been cut for each of the next four years. If that is not anticipating receipts from the Sports Council, I do not know what is.

The Minister said that the Foundation for Sport and the Arts will be well protected, but that is pools money and completely different. The Government should be investing in the Sports Council, which does excellent work.

The hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth) said that the Arts Council did well this year, but he is wrong. It did not recover the £3.2 million cut made last year. To take account of inflation last year and this, the Government should have put £2.75 million more into the council than they did. They gave more than people expected, but the council is still behind on two years ago--and that figure was woefully inadequate.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman has forgotten the substantial increase that the Arts Council enjoyed between 1990 and 1993.

Mr. Fisher: I remember it only too well. That increase did not make up for the terrible loss of grant over the previous 10 or 15 years. It has grown worse and worse in real terms. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Arts Council did well that particular year, but he should ask his regional theatres whether they are able to stage as many productions, have casts as large and undertake as much education as they did. The answer from every theatre and arts organisation in the country would be no.

Mr. Sproat: Beyond a shadow of a doubt, spending on the arts has increased 40 per cent. in real terms since 1979. It did not go up that much under Labour. Whatever my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) may think, and I hear his complaints, it cannot be denied that the Government have given that increase.

Mr. Fisher: The Minister is comparatively new to debates that have continued several years, and he is completely wrong. He is saying that Government Department expenditure has increased, mainly inflated by the long, drawn-out agony of funding the British library. Let us consider the National theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and regional theatres, which are £7 million in deficit. If one were to ask whether their grant was more or less than 10 years ago, whether they could stage more productions and commission new work and whether they could undertake more outreach work and education, the answer would be no. He knows that arts organisations have successively been cut. He should not blur the figures by talking about capital expenditure on the British library and other such schemes and the administrative costs of his own Department. We have had this debate many times before, and this is not the time to have it again. The Minister is right about the figures but wrong about arts organisations such as the regional arts boards and the Arts Council. He knows that that is the position, and he should accept it.

The Government have not thought through the consequences for the pools. Pools promoters do not have a level playing field on which to operate. The Minister referred to advertising but did not say that he would take action. Will he give an undertaking to introduce some change? It is wrong that pools promoters should be at such a disadvantage.

Column 1325

It makes no sense at all that betting shops should not be points of sale. Surely they would make admirable ones. It is probable that betting shops will suffer along with others. Why should they not sell lottery tickets? The bingo industry will undoubtedly suffer. The Minister should say something about that. His remarks about small charities were far too bland.

We have a real opportunity with the national lottery that is recognised by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. There is the opportunity to put right our historic buildings, which the Government have allowed to decay over the past 15 years. On Lord Palumbo's estimate, £1 billion is needed. We have the opportunity to put right our cultural buildings, such as libraries, concert halls, arts centres and theatres. We must get these projects right. I am talking of buildings that the Government have allowed to decline through their underfunding. We have a chance to mark and celebrate the millennium in a way that would make clear our pride in the British culture.

We have a chance to spread sport throughout the entire country. Support can be given to education, which has lost an enormous number of playing fields over the past few years. Quality can be improved. When we bear in mind the English cricket team's performance, it is clear that we need all the help and investment that we can get. There is a chance to do the little things, which are the most interesting and important, in every community throughout the United Kingdom. We shall be able to restore communities that the Government, through a package of policies, have done so much to fracture and destroy over the past few years.

The potential of the lottery and the good-causes side of it is enormous. We all welcome and applaud that, even if much of the need for it is the result of the Government's neglect. It is not good enough for the Government to have, metaphorically, their fingers crossed, like the lottery logo. If they do not take on board the important points of additionality, anonymity, funding and separation of powers between the Arts Council and the arts boards, as well as many other issues, they will snatch if not defeat at least shambles from the jaws of what should be victory. They must uncross their fingers, stop hoping for the best with the lottery and ensure that it is the success that it should be and that we want it to be. It will be a success only if they approach the problems to which I have referred with much more urgency and produce some positive answers to them.

11.23 am

Next Section

  Home Page