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10.28 am

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on having secured a high place in the ballot and on his perspicacity in introducing this Bill.

As other right hon. and hon. Members have said, there has been a touch of common cynicism in the belief that most of the private Members' Bills in this Session would be killed off, not in the massacre of the innocents by the Government Whips on a Friday, but by the onset of a general election. Indeed, I suppose that until almost the beginning of the week, that would have been the

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inevitable fate of this Bill. However, I suspect that many of us are no longer sure that that will be so. I understand that the Prime Minister is now taking command of the foot and mouth crisis--the advisers and spin doctors have been banished, at least for this week--and if he decides to postpone the election, one plus would be that the Bill may have a fair wind and become law. Most Members present would fully support that.

Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I think that the outstanding work of the Eastern Daily Press, and especially of its deputy editor, James Ruddy, and his colleagues, has massively boosted the appeal. I also pay tribute to the hard graft of the appeal's director, Paddy Seligman. I do not want to embarrass her, but the analogy that I would use is that she is a larger than life, Mo Mowlam character with a serious dash of Margaret Thatcher on top. She is like a gutsy, explosive culinary dish. It takes such people to drive things through and energise local businesses and voluntary organisations.

We are discussing in general terms a private Member's Bill that will have an effect across the board, but like others who have spoken I want to talk about the particular. The hon. Member for Norwich, North is trying to correct an anomaly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) said. The Eastern Daily Press "We Care" appeal has two aspects.

The first is a general principle. As a Conservative, I believe in smaller government and in rigorous control of public expenditure. However, when public expenditure is required, every effort should be made to use it in the most useful and expeditious way. Having established the principle, the practice is also important. The most important practice in this case should be seen from a narrow Treasury point of view. We should make every effort to encourage voluntary organisations.

What makes the United Kingdom different from many other countries is not necessarily language and history, but the marvellous British tradition of volunteering. Without the hundreds of thousands of unpaid volunteers, not only the caring sector but all parts of our society would grind to a halt. Under our current party political organisation, most of us rely on the voluntary spirit at that most narrow basic level.

Attempts should be made to ensure that moneys raised can be used more expeditiously. The irony is that that saves public expenditure in the long term. In Norfolk, there is a core of 110,000 carers--relatives and others. Those people fulfil a fundamental role, as the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) graphically described. If they did not do so, the people whom they look after would either suffer or, more likely, would be an even greater burden on the local authority social services. The social services budget for Norfolk county council is more than £2 million in the red.

I support the Bill because it addresses both principle and practice. I pay tribute to the work of my parliamentary colleagues in Norfolk. The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth and I are both built more for comfort than speed--I hope he takes that remark in the spirit in which it is offered--whereas the hon. Member for Norwich, North is built more like a racing snake and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk has feline body language. I particularly pay tribute to my hon. Friend the

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Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior), who is an outstanding MP. His constituents will want to return him with an even bigger majority. He did a long walk along the north Norfolk coast and raised a remarkable £10,000.

I hope that that was not the valedictory speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk. He is a distinguished member of the Magic Circle, and as a magician--pouf, just like that--he may reappear in a few weeks' time if we do not have a general election. He has been an outstanding Member for South Norfolk, and has supported many of the charities that we are discussing.

I hope that my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), will give general and generous support to the Bill. I realise that, as with all private Members' Bills, it is not a belt-and-braces measure and does not meet all the Government's requirements, but the Secretary of State gave warm consideration to the proposals of the hon. Member for Norwich, North when a delegation of us met him several weeks ago.

I hope that the Bill will be given a fair wind by the House. It addresses an anomaly that affects a number of charitable organisations, especially the Eastern Daily Press appeal in Norfolk.

10.37 am

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on securing such a high place in the ballot, which many of us would cherish but few achieve, and on using the opportunity to advance support for such a worthy cause, not just in his constituency, but in those of many right hon. and hon. Members, as we have heard.

The issues that the hon. Gentleman raised deserve detailed scrutiny. However, we are not here to discuss the merits of the charity or to second-guess whether, were it able to do so, the National Lottery Charities Board would support that charity. I pay tribute to him for the way he researched the Bill and the issues surrounding it. He mentioned the NLCB's current programme and the work that it is doing to provide funds for various projects that support charitable groups. The question for us is whether the proposed change is desirable, whether it would improve the workings of the NLCB and provide greater equity of opportunity to obtain grants from the board, or whether it would have adverse consequences for the work of the board or the operation of the lottery funding bodies.

Our role in the limited time that we have to look into the matter is to give our views in principle on the aims of the Bill. We should discuss policy on the NLCB funding of endowments, and the impact of any change in the national lottery legislation on the funding bodies and the distribution of funds to them by the lottery.

There is no point in widening the remit of a funding body if the funds available are insufficient to meets its programme of work. We should not oppose a change that would allow the NLCB to provide grants to endowments where the endowment was the vehicle being used to deliver a charitable project that it would otherwise have supported. If the point is that a problem in the current legislation has prevented support for a particular charitable project because it was being funded by an endowment, we feel that a change in law would be entirely reasonable. A difficulty would arise, however, if the NLCB felt obliged to fund endowments that would deal with the money as grant-making bodies.

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We all know of charities in our constituencies that have received revenue funding for fixed periods, perhaps three years. I can think of two such charities in my constituency. The Ryedale detached youth work project is a street-level support project for youngsters in rural Ryedale and reaches out to youngsters who take drugs, suffer alcoholism or are homeless. We have received funding for three years, but there is nothing beyond that. Similarly, the NLCB has funded a national charity that happens to be based in Ryedale, the Encephalitis Support Group, which helps families in which a member--often a child--suffers from a difficult virus about which little is medically known. Again, the money will be exhausted at the end of a specified period.

When charities are funded, they usually receive money that will enable them to carry on their work for an appreciable period. That differs, however, from providing an endowment that could be invested and used to provide grants to individuals in perpetuity. The NLCB is right to be concerned that that might be an adverse consequence arising from the change proposed by the hon. Member for Norwich, North. None the less, if the law as it stands prevents the funding of a charitable project simply because the vehicle delivering the funding is an endowment, we should think it wholly reasonable for the law to be changed.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the different legislative provisions of section 33(1) of the 1993 Act, which restricts the NLCB to grants for charitable expenditure, as opposed to funding projects. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) commented that it is difficult to understand why the NLCB was treated differently and why endowments were excluded. In the most charitable way possible, I have to point out that he was a member of the Cabinet at the time, which just goes to show the extent to which the detail of proposals can go beyond what we can possibly cover on Second Reading. These are technical and complex legal issues.

My right hon. Friend also highlighted the success of endowments in general. As we prepare to be the next Government, we think that endowments should indeed be an important vehicle by which to deliver a number of projects. We have drawn up detailed plans on how endowments could be used to fund arts, cultural and sporting organisations in order to give them the financial base that they need.

We are not likely to resolve such technical issues today. The NLCB has had legal advice that there are technical deficiencies in the Bill, particularly as concerns philanthropic and benevolent bodies. The hon. Member for Norwich, North made a good fist of trying to explain the technical difficulties of the law in that area, but the problems reinforce the need to review and reform charity law in general. The lottery legislation reflects charity law and case law, and there is a growing sense that we need to reconsider the position in collaboration with the Charity Commission as well as the NLCB.

We should remember the point about interest rates referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk, and about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) expressed his concern in an intervention. That is not an argument against endowments, which we strongly favour. We need, however, to bear it in mind when we consider the best use of the NLCB's limited resources.

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In a Committee earlier this week, the Minister and I had a discourse on the Government's proposals for the funding initiatives now available to the new opportunities fund. I mentioned that the NLCB's share of lottery funding had been reduced from 20 per cent. to 16.67 per cent. I understand the Government's view that the lottery was so much more successful than everyone imagined that all the funding bodies received more money than they expected. However, their funding has gone down.

This is neither the time nor the place to debate the way in which lottery funds are distributed among bodies, but we all know of many charities that have applied for lottery funding and been refused. All kinds of reasons are advanced for that--including the argument that a charity is an endowment and, therefore, does not qualify--but one reason why the NLCB must decline many applications is that it simply does not have the funds to meet all the demands placed on it. The resources of the NLCB are by far the most stretched of all the lottery funding bodies.

We should need reassurance on the technical issues if the Bill were to proceed. Normally, such issues could be explored in Committee, but we suspect that they will be left to the next Parliament. The lottery has been a major success, indeed one of the major--in two senses of the word--successes of the final years of the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). None the less, it needs further reform, and I assure the hon. Member for Norwich, North that if it falls to us to be the next Government, as I sincerely hope that it will, we shall take the matters that he has raised into account in the review of lottery legislation that we intend to conduct early in the next Parliament.

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