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House of Commons

Monday 27 February 1995

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Discrimination in Sport

1. Mr. Hinchliffe: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he last met representatives of the Rugby Football Union to discuss discrimination in sport.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat): I meet representatives of the Rugby Football Union and the Rugby League on a regular basis to discuss a wide range of issues.

Mr. Hinchliffe: Is the Minister aware that one of the finest qualities of the Secretary of State is his sense of humour? Is he aware that in his previous post at the Treasury the Secretary of State told me in a parliamentary answer that top rugby union players did not pay income tax because theirs was strictly an amateur sport? In view of the money now accruing to the Government as a result of the Inland Revenue investigation of rugby union, would it not be right and proper for that funding to be passed directly to the Rugby League for use in ground improvement, in recognition of the discrimination that that sport has suffered in the past 100 years?

Mr. Sproat: It is true that the Inland Revenue is currently investigating the income of not only rugby league but rugby union players. As for the safety of sports grounds, I am trying to find a way to help rugby league and not just association football.

Sir Donald Thompson: Does my hon. Friend agree that rugby union is a game played nationwide by men and boys aged six to 60--

Mr. Menzies Campbell: And women.

Sir Donald Thompson: --and by some ladies, and that relations between the Rugby League and the Rugby Football Union have never been better since the Rugby League was formed at the George hotel in 1895?

Mr. Sproat: My hon. Friend is right. Relations between the Rugby Football Union and the Rugby League are at an all-time peak. The meeting on 27 January between Mr. Walker and Mr. Lindsey, representing rugby league, and Mr. Pugh and Mr. Rowlands, representing rugby union, was of great symbolic importance. The gangways between rugby union and rugby league are opening up. That is a good

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thing. I should also point out that Wasps rugby football club has provided the ground for the amateur rugby league final in London for the past five years. That is a good thing and typical.

Mr. Hoyle: In view of that encouraging reply, is the Minister aware of the case of my constituent, Adrian Spencer, who played amateur rugby league football with Woolston? He played a few games for London Crusaders, for which he received no payment; yet when he played in the Varsity match he was suspended for 12 months. Will the Minister note the contrast between him and Mike Catt, the England player, who admitted receiving £140 per week expenses when he played in South Africa but was exonerated? Will he seek a meeting with the Rugby Union to condemn the injustice to my constituent and ask for his reinstatement forthwith? Will he also ask it to apply rules for 1995 and not those more akin to 1895?

Mr. Sproat: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about Adrian Spencer, who played for only a few minutes; he was on and off the field so quickly that I hardly noticed him, but the hon. Gentleman's point is none the less important and I will draw it to the attention of the rugby union authorities.


2. Dr. Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make it his policy to allocate funds to promote gardening.

Mr. Sproat: The Department of National Heritage, its agencies and sponsored bodies do not give grants to gardening as an activity in its own right. However, through a number of its agencies and bodies the Department supports the maintenance and preservation of gardens of historic and heritage interest.

Dr. Spink: Is my hon. Friend aware of the outstanding success of Benfleet horticultural society, of which I am a member? Does he agree that the national heritage of Great Britain is characterised by ordinary front and rear gardens and allotments and not by men in tights and large Italian singers? Will any funds be available from the national lottery for our great garden institutions, such as Kew gardens?

Mr. Sproat: I agree about the great importance of allotments. In fact, the Department of the Environment gives £35,000 per year to the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners. On the national lottery, it would be appropriate for applications to be made to the National Heritage memorial fund for historic gardens and I saw in the newspaper this morning that Kew gardens is applying for £41 million from the millennium fund.

Mr. Flynn: Is not the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) right in saying that our gardens are a great tourist attraction? The Secretary of State said that he would announce the strategy for tourism--promised before Christmas--on St. David's day at the Tower of London. While the choice of day is admirable, why on earth is it not being presented to Parliament so that we

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can debate in detail many of the controversial issues in that statement? When will the House hear what our strategy for tourism is?

Mr. Sproat: I have no doubt that a proper opportunity will be found for the House to express its views on that important matter.

Cross-media Ownership

4. Sir Michael Neubert: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what recent representations he has received on cross-media ownership; and if he will make a statement.

6. Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he intends to announce his proposals on cross-media ownership.

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Stephen Dorrell): The Government have received 64 written representations since the review was announced last year. We shall announce our conclusions when we have completed consideration of the issues that they raise.

Sir Michael Neubert: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the series of separate boxes within which the different aspects of the media are regulated are looking as outdated as a 1950s television set? Would it not better reflect the interaction of rapidly developing technologies if considerations of monopoly and limitations on ownership were determined by reference to a more fluid, across-the-board assessment at national or local level or both?

Mr. Dorrell: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, which he will know has been the subject of an investigation by the British media industry group. He will also know that if we pursued the train of thought that he suggests, the most difficult questions would arise in terms of the measurement of the value of a share in one part of the media compared with the value of a share in another part of that market. In other words, how much is one newspaper share worth as against one television share? Those are difficult and intricate issues to which I do not think that anyone in the industry believes that we have a convincing solution.

Mr. Mitchell: Will the Minister bear it in mind that in this consideration it is more important to get it right than to get it quick? Will he bear in mind primarily the need to stop any further erosion of the regionally based ITV companies, which have already been far too undermined by the Broadcasting Act 1990? Secondly, will he bear in mind the need to avoid local media monopolies of any kind? Thirdly, will he bear in mind the need to attract more money into programme production rather than any struggle for transmission facilities?

Mr. Dorrell: I certainly agree that it is more important to get it right than to get it quickly. That is why we are taking our time to ensure that the issues are properly teased out. Having said that, however, it is also important to bring the process to a close because important issues to do with the structure of the market, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) referred, need to be resolved. As regards the hon. Gentleman's emphasis on the importance of

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regional diversity and of ensuring that monopolies are avoided at regional as well as national level, I agree with him and it will be one of the aspects covered in the Government's conclusions.

Mr. Fabricant: Does my right hon. Friend agree that mobility of labour within the media is tremendously important? Does he not think it a little rich and rather worrying that the head of news at BBC Westminster is leaving to become director of campaigning and elections for the Labour party?

Mr. Dorrell: I do not intend to get involved in offering career advice to an employee of any part of the public sector. Clearly, it is important that anyone who takes a job as campaigning officer for the Labour party should have career plans beyond the next election because the Labour party will not provide them.

Mr. Chris Smith: The Secretary of State will agree that one of the main strands of a fair and sensible cross-media ownership settlement is to ensure that self-regulation of the press works and is seen to work. Does he also agree that, above all, a fair-minded and impartial weighing up of sensitive evidence is needed from the Press Complaints Commission? How can that possibly happen when a man as rudely opinionated and irrational as Sir Bernard Ingham is proposed for membership?

Mr. Dorrell: I am not sure that press privacy regulations arise directly out of cross-media ownership, but I am happy to reply to the hon. Gentleman's question. The Government have made it clear that we would prefer a model for regulation of the press built on the principles of self- regulation. It follows from that proposition that responsibility for appointing people to the self-regulatory body rests not with the Government or the Opposition but with the press itself. None the less, the effectiveness of any model for self-regulation depends on an effective policing body. Whatever else may be said about Sir Bernard Ingham--for this purpose, his views are frankly irrelevant--no one can deny that he is effective. If we want an effective regulator, effectiveness is the criterion that we should apply to potential candidates.

Football Stadiums

5. Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will review the requirement for all-seater stadiums at league football matches.

Mr. Sproat: The issue was most recently reviewed in 1992 when it was decided that the all-seater requirement would apply only to clubs in the Football Association premier league and the first division of the Football League. Virtually all those clubs now have all-seater stadiums. All other Football League clubs are being allowed to retain standing accommodation. I have no plans to review the matter again.

Sir Teddy Taylor: Is the Minister aware that the majority of football fans seem to agree that the exciting character of football matches has been seriously undermined by the removal of standing areas? In view of recent initiatives on safe standing areas, is there not

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a case for the Minister to review the matter, particularly for clubs in the first division which have not completed their all-seater arrangements?

Mr. Sproat: I am sorry to say that the short answer is no. As for football fans enjoying standing on the terraces, it is true that they did and there are arguments in favour of terraces, but they are not so great as the arguments for all-seater stadiums which, although not a panacea, have helped to increase the number of people watching football matches over the past 10 years by 1.2 million.

Mr. Orme: As one who supports all-seater stadiums, does the Minister agree with me that their purpose is not only to make football more accessible and allow people to see matches properly but to have some control over crowds? What action will the Government take to offset the current rise in racism in sport?

Mr. Sproat: The right hon. Gentleman is certainly correct to say that all-seater stadiums appear to have helped to control violence, from whatever source, at grounds. They do not stop it but, combined with measures such as closed-circuit television, they are of great benefit. I am in the process of holding a number of meetings with the premier league, the Football Association and the Football League to see what more, if anything, can be done.

Mr. John Marshall: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is only right and proper that in the 1990s people should be able to watch football in comfort and safety, and that all-seater stadiums provide both? Does he agree that, where people can choose between attending an all-seater stadium or a stadium in which there is standing room only, they usually prefer the all-seater stadium?

Mr. Sproat: I think that, on balance, my hon. Friend is correct. It is interesting that a number of clubs which do not have to go all-seater, such as Birmingham, Huddersfield and Northampton, have chosen to do so because their fans find such grounds better for watching football matches.

Mr. Pendry: The hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) made a strong point about safe standing areas at football grounds. Is the Minister also aware of the need for more flexibility towards clubs attempting to relocate their grounds outside town centres, as recommended in the Taylor report and by the Sports Council? Does he appreciate that unless he resolves the differences between his Department and the Department of the Environment as the planning Department, many clubs will go to the wall and that our national game will be the poorer for the loss of clubs already in difficulty such as Southampton, Portsmouth, Exeter, Bristol Rovers, Sunderland, Oxford United and Grimsby, to name but a few?

Mr. Sproat: It is certainly true that a number of clubs want to relocate, but have been unable to do so. I believe that Southend wants to relocate, but has been unable to find a place to relocate. The recent decision about Portsmouth is a good example. A balance must be struck between the needs of the planning authorities and those of the football clubs. We shall do our best to see that a fair balance is struck.

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National Lottery

8. Mr. Duncan: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received from organisations which wish to relieve the Arts Council of its responsibilities for distributing funds from the national lottery.

Mr. Sproat: I have received no such representations.

Mr. Duncan: In view of some rather puzzling criticism that has appeared in the newspapers, notably the Evening Standard and The Independent , about the distribution of lottery funds by the Arts Council, will the Minister undertake to consult Lord Gowrie to satisfy himself that the procedures laid down by the Arts Council are set at the highest possible standard?

Mr. Sproat: Yes. My hon. Friend has made an important point. I also noticed the article in The Independent , which seemed to suggest that some members of advisory panels on the Arts Council, or their institutions, had been in receipt of funds from the Arts Council. Now that the national lottery is more than doubling--or is at least likely to do so--the amount of money that the Arts Council has to distribute, it is only right that the financial procedures should be absolutely above all suspicion. My hon. Friend will be interested to know that the National Audit Office expects shortly to announce its validation--or otherwise, I suppose--of the Arts Council's suggestions.

Ms Hoey: Does the Minister accept that the Arts Council would have more money to distribute from the national lottery if Camelot was not taking such huge profits, which were not taken into account when the regulations governing who should get the contract to start with were drawn up? It is about time that the Minister addressed that problem and forced Camelot to pay back its start-up costs immediately.

Mr. Sproat: No, I do not agree. Camelot agreed to bid and accept the franchise on the basis of a return of between 5 and 6 per cent. of the franchise. That was the risk that it took and that percentage is a perfectly fair return. In fact, it was the lowest return offered by any of the companies which bid for the franchise.


9. Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what assessment he has made of the importance of the arts in attracting visitors to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Dorrell: The arts play a vital role in bringing visitors to this country. In the 1993 London overseas visitors survey, 69 per cent. of overseas visitors cited the heritage as one of the main reasons for their visit and 45 per cent. mentioned the arts and museums and galleries as being among the main reasons for their visit.

Mr. Waterson: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that on top of the figures he has already quoted, on average one theatre seat in three in London is filled by a foreign visitor? Does he agree

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that that illustrates the importance of his support for the arts, and particularly the extra £7 million for cultural causes that he announced recently?

Mr. Dorrell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about London theatres. He might have added that not only are one third of London theatre seats sold to overseas visitors, but a further third are sold to visitors from out of London who buy theatre tickets during their visit to the city. That is a good example of the circular and benign relationship which binds the arts and the tourist industry, giving each a vested interest in the expansion of the other.

Mr. Enright: Does the Secretary of State agree that regional arts are extremely important in that context? Will he specifically consider Wakefield sculpture park, which is a world leader and desperately in need of assistance?

Mr. Dorrell: I entirely agree that the principles illustrated by the London case apply with equal force across the United Kingdom. The example of the Wakefield sculpture park is regularly cited to me as an arts venue that attracts visitors to a region to which they might not otherwise go.

National Centre for Athletics

10. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans he has to establish a new national centre for athletics; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Sproat: The establishment of a new national centre for athletics is essentially a matter for the British Athletic Federation. However, I am concerned that proper sporting structures should exist to enable our young sportsmen and women to reach their potential.

Mr. Greenway: Bearing in mind the great distinction that our colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe), achieved largely without support, would it be possible to encourage and support future athletes? During my hon. Friend the Minister's visit to Australia, did he manage to visit the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra? If so, what does it cost to run and who profits, and would such an institution in Britain be eligible for national lottery funding?

Mr. Sproat: It would certainly be possible for an organisation in this country comparable with the Australian Institute of Sport to be funded by the national lottery. From memory, I believe that the cost of the Australian model is about £10 million per year. I am sure that the relevant organisations will want to consider that closely.

Mr. Menzies Campbell: May I persuade the Minister not to be diverted by the suggestion that a national centre is the way to increase the standard of performance in athletics once and for all? Will he accept from me that proper opportunities at school, a vibrant system of club athletics and the provision of adequate

facilities--especially indoor facilities, given

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the climate of the United Kingdom--are much more likely in the long term to produce the type of performances that we would all wish?

Mr. Sproat: I agree 100 per cent. with what the hon. and learned Gentleman said about the benefits which would flow from obtaining the school, university, club and indoor facilities that he would wish. However, I do not think that any of that means that we should not consider something more central as well, but that is a matter for the British Athletic Federation to consider.

Company Connections, Wales

11. Mr. Morgan: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement on his investigations into the connection between the Penwyn Pinc Company, the Welsh Rock and Folk Music Company, the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts and the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority-S4C.

Mr. Dorrell: My Department has received reports from ABSA and the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority on the circumstances of an award to the Welsh Rock and Folk Music Council under the business sponsorship incentive scheme. It has commissioned a separate review, independent of the bodies involved, from a senior Treasury official, Mr. John Beastall. Both ABSA and the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority will be closely involved in the review.

Mr. Morgan: Notwithstanding that answer, does the Secretary of State agree that there is the whiff of cultural money laundering about the entire episode? In the light of previous unhappy experiences with aspects of ABSA's management and the insider trading that went on in that organisation, will he agree to accelerate the review and announce its results to the House at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Dorrell: It was because we were concerned about reports in respect of the Welsh arrangements for BSIS distribution that we asked Mr. Beastall to conduct the investigation. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that his report will be made available to the House.

Quality of Service

12. Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what criteria or benchmarks are used to measure the quality of service provided by his Department.

Mr. Sproat: We have performance targets for the key areas in which services are delivered to ensure that they are of high quality and that they support the Department's aims and objectives.

Mr. Mackinlay: Why does the Minister not use the year 1979 as his benchmark? Does he agree that our cherished buildings are falling into decay, we cannot excel in international sporting competitions and the quality of our performing arts is being diminished as a result of lack of funding? Is he aware that the Library Association is especially worried about the serious cuts in the public library service in recent years and the fact that the Treasury projects a further two years of cuts in that area? How does the Minister intend to ensure

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that public libraries are enhanced, improved and reopened instead of being closed, as has been the hallmark of the Tory years?

Mr. Sproat: I will deal with as many of the hon. Gentleman's questions as I can remember.

Capital expenditure on sports facilities will come under the lottery and I hope that that will be wisely used.

On the arts, the hon. Gentleman knows that £191.1 million has been given to the Arts Council of England next year--an increase of 3.7 per cent.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I wish local public libraries to flourish. With regard to spending, the hon. Gentleman should speak to the Department of the Environment about the standard spending assessment.

Mr. Fisher: Has the Minister actually read the Library Association's survey, which shows the cuts that are taking place in library authorities controlled by all political parties throughout the country? Does he not understand the damage that cuts in public libraries do to communities, to the education of children and of adults, to literacy and to the information revolution that the Government surely want to take place? How can people take full advantage of the information revolution coming through the super- highways if, as a result of the stupid cuts that the Conservative Government are implementing, access to information cannot be obtained through public libraries, which are the one means of access that everyone-- small companies and individuals--can have to the information revolution?

Mr. Sproat: On the hon. Gentleman's main point, I share his views on the importance of public libraries. My Department will shortly be publishing our response to the review and opportunities will no doubt be found in the House to discuss both the review and the Department's response to it.

British Film Industry

15. Mr. Evennett: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans he has to give additional help and support to the British film industry.

Mr. Dorrell: The Select Committee on National Heritage is currently conducting an inquiry on the subject and I have undertaken to set out the Government's approach in my response to the Committee's findings.

Mr. Evennett: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that British-production films such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Shallow Grave" are excellent? Will he agree to promote the British film industry as much as he can and to try to encourage as many British business men as possible to invest in that worthwhile venture?

Mr. Dorrell: I agree with my hon. Friend on all counts and I look forward to responding to the invitation from Mr. Michael Grade to attend the launch in Britain of "The Madness of King George". My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the flowering of the British film industry which is taking place at present. We must now ensure that we take advantage of the skills and resources available within the British film industry, not merely to promote the development of

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British films--although that is important-- but to attract to our shores internationally mobile film-making projects. That is why the Government continue to support the British Film Commission and why I was so pleased to be able to tell the Select Committee that last year's expenditure on films made in Britain was higher than in any year since 1980.

Mr. Dafis: Does the Minister agree that Channel 4's "Film on Four" is now the cornerstone of the British film industry, both by virtue of the budget made available through it and because films shown on that channel are eligible for nomination for Oscars and BAFTA awards? Does he accept that the number of films commissioned from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for "Film on Four" is unacceptably low? Will he give the figures and undertake to do something to ensure that that serious imbalance is corrected?

Mr. Dorrell: I recognise that Channel 4 has played a distinguished role in the resurgence of film making in Britain and I hope that that process will continue. As for assistance to specific forms of film making-- whether through Channel 4 or another film-making agency--we shall have to wait until the response to the Select Committee report, which I mentioned in my initial answer.

Mr. Simon Coombs: Notwithstanding the considerable success that the British film industry is enjoying--which many of us hope will be reflected in the academy awards ceremony next month, with an Oscar for Mr. Nigel Hawthorne, the former civil servant--does my right hon. Friend agree that the Irish have captured much of the potential market for film making in this country as they have a much more liberal tax regime? Will my right hon. Friend bear that point in mind and go and see for himself what the Irish are doing before he responds to the Select Committee report?

Mr. Dorrell: I will certainly take account of the package of support and the environment available to film makers working in Britain compared with what is available in comparable countries. Before we go overboard in our praise for the Irish film-making regime, I should remind the House that the amount spent on film making in Ireland last year was roughly £100 million while the amount spent on film making in Britain last year was roughly £400 million, so the imbalance is not quite as is sometimes suggested.

Mr. Maclennan: In recognising the distinguished role of Channel 4 in film making, would not the Secretary of State do well to listen to the channel's chairman, Sir Michael Bishop, who advocated a change in the funding formula, which currently results in about £60 million per year being siphoned away from programme and film making by Channel 4? The right hon. Gentleman should listen particularly to the offers to recompense any companies in the independent sector which have not made the income that they predicted to the Independent Television Commission in 1991.

Mr. Dorrell: What the hon. Member describes as siphoning off money is a payment by Channel 4 to the Channel 3 licensees--the people who took the risk associated with Channel 4.

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The management of Channel 4 has cause to celebrate the fact that that risk has proved a triumphant success. However, I do not believe that it is a reason to rewrite the agreement that binds Channel 3 and Channel 4 under terms that were known to both when the licences were granted.

Football Players

16. Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what recent meetings he has had with officers of the Football Association to discuss the behaviour of football players during matches.

Mr. Sproat: I have regular meetings with the various footballing bodies and I have made my concerns about the behaviour of football players clear. Responsibility, however, rests with the Football Association, which has firm disciplinary procedures to deal with player misconduct.

Mr. Cox: I welcome the Minister's reply, but, sadly, we see more and more pretty despicable behaviour by players during football matches. If we condemn so-called football supporters for their deplorable behaviour, we must be equally tough on footballers. Will the Minister assure the House that he will continue to press the appropriate football authorities about the need to get really tough with players who bring this great game into disrepute?

Mr. Sproat: Yes, I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. The Football Association's response to the incident involving Mr. Cantona-- whereby it doubled the fine imposed and greatly lengthened the amount of time that he will be out of football--showed that it is prepared to act in a way that the hon. Gentleman and I would like.

Mr. Matthew Banks: I welcome my hon. Friend's remarks. At a future meeting with officers of the Football Association, will he make it quite clear that professional footballers have a duty to set a much better example in terms of their behaviour both on and off the pitch to the youth of this country?

Mr. Sproat: Professional footballers--indeed, professional and amateur players of all sports--have a tremendous duty to provide proper role models for young people, and I think that the overwhelming number of them do so.

National Lottery

17. Mr. Hawkins: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received on the timing of distribution of national lottery funds for good causes; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Dorrell: I have received a number of representations from members of the public and others expressing a variety of views.

Mr. Hawkins: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he bear it in mind that the historic success of the national lottery--which has so captured the public's imagination and is an enormous credit to the bravery of those in the Government who decided to push ahead with it in the face of much carping and

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unfair criticism from the Opposition--must be reinforced by ensuring that the funds raised are distributed in a timely manner and to good causes?

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