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23 Oct 2002 : Column 282continued
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Would my hon. Friend accept that one way of solving this problem would be to introduce competition and choice into the process, denationalising the monopoly national lotteryas it is at the momentand allowing rival lotteries to be set up, perhaps by sports organisations or health organisations? Is not that the way forward, rather than the dirigiste approach being adopted by the Government?
Mr. Whittingdale: There are already possibilities for societies to have their own lotteries. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend's suggestion is a good one, and I hope that it will be considered. There is no doubt that we need to do something to restore public trust in the national lottery, which is the main point that I want to make.
The good causes are suffering not just because the Government are now siphoning off lottery money to pay for programmes that are core responsibilities and that should be financed by the taxpayer: falling ticket sales mean that they are suffering from a double squeeze. There may be many reasons why ticket sales have declined. It is beyond doubt, however, that one factor is a growing concern that money raised by the lottery is going to support causes that are highly controversial and that do not command public support. Two causes in particular have received considerable publicity in recent weeks.
The decision by the community fund to award #340,000 to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns should never have been made. Far from being an organisation concerned with the welfare of those seeking asylum, it is a political organisation that
It is hardly surprising that the Home Secretary was on the phone to the Secretary of State three times in one day to protest. We have been told that the subsequent talks between the Department and the community fund were Xfrosty". Even after the grant was confirmed yesterday, the Secretary of State issued a statement saying that she Xstill had doubts" about this particular organisation. I suspect that the Home Secretary might have put it a bit more robustly. We are now assured that the organisation will cease its political activities, but it is hard to imagine what else an organisation whose raison d'être is to oppose our asylum laws is likely to do.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that to qualify for community fund funding charities should not have political views? On that basis, organisations based in my constituency, such as Oxfam, would find it very difficult to access lottery funding. Surely recipients of such funding have a right to different views from those of the Government as long as the funding goes to core charitable causes that are separate from those political views.
Mr. Whittingdale: Of course, many charities have political views, but the core purpose of this particular organisation is to oppose the legislation passed by the House. It is a political organisation, and it is waging a political campaign. Most people would regard such a body as not appropriate to receive funding from the national lottery.
That is not an isolated example. A few weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills rightly expressed her anger that an appeals panel had overruled a head teacher's decision to exclude two pupils for threatening to kill their teacher. It was revealed shortly afterwards, however, that the Communities Empowerment Network, which had given legal support to the two pupils, had received #200,000 from the community fund. Once again, an organisation that actively campaigns against the actions and policies of Ministers is funded by national lottery grants.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Did my hon. Friend hear the Secretary of State on XNewsnight" yesterday busily putting herself at arm's length from the community fund and these nonsensical grants, on the ground that she had to allow the fund to make its own decisions? Did not the Government back the community fund's priorities and appoint most of the people on it who hand the money out?
Mr. Whittingdale: My hon. Friend is absolutely rightthat point is at the core of my argument. Although we support the arm's length principle, he is right to point out that the community fund operates under guidelines set by the Government.
Mr. Whittingdale: The hon. Gentleman should put his argument to the Government. They have made it plain that they do not agree with the grants that have been made, especially the one to the organisation campaigning against our asylum laws. They have disowned it, so he should direct his comments first to the Secretary of State and to the Home Secretary, who are absolutely right to say that it is not an appropriate body to receive lottery funding.
Let me make it clear that I am not suggesting that the work of the community fund is not valuable; the vast majority of grants that it awards are to organisations that I thoroughly applaud. The community fund's work in supporting local causes, such as carers associations, village halls, community centres and citizens advice bureaux, has done enormous good. Only last month, I was informed that the community fund had awarded #258,000 to the Steeple village hall trust in my constituency. I do not believe that that happened just because I had been appointed to my present position six weeks earlier.
The majority of the thoroughly deserving causes that have been supported have been eclipsed by a number of awards to politically correct organisations that command little public support. The community fund should, of course, support less popular charitable organisations that find it harder to raise voluntary contributions, but awards to help farmers in Peru to breed meatier guinea pigs for eating, that support the staging of a lesbian and gay pantomime in Manchester or that strengthen the contribution of women to the peace movement in the great lakes region of Africa simply undermine public confidence that the money raised from lottery tickets is used to help the causes that they wish to support.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is precisely because it has come to the public's attention that the lottery is giving money to such disreputable causes that there has been a decline in ticket sales. My newsagent in my constitutuency lost 10 per cent. of sales when the information was revealed. Do not such grants stand in sharp contrast to the lack of support that the lottery gives to many deserving veterans' and ex-service men's organisations that desperately try to help those who risked their lives or suffered for their country? St. Dunstan's is a case in point. It has been refused a #600,000 lottery grant, and the whole country knows what a fantastic job it does for those who were blinded in the service of their country.
Mr. Whittingdale: My hon. Friend anticipates my remarks. I am not suggesting that the work of some of the organisations that have been offered support is not worthy. However, I think that most people would find it a fairly strange set of priorities to give them money when other organisations that command universal support and are regarded as thoroughly deserving are refused funding.
Mr. Whittingdale: I do not want to go into too much detail on individual applications, but there is a difference between organisations that work to improve people's welfare and those that run political campaigns. The latter group is inappropriate for lottery funding, but no one is saying that organisations dedicated to improving people's welfare do not deserve support.
The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) goes to the core of the problem. The situation is made worse by the refusal of a large number of applications made by organisations that everyone would agree are deserving. The anger expressed by Simon Weston a few weeks ago about the refusal of applications from service charities, such as the Royal British Legion and St. Dunstan's, is widely shared. In the introduction to the Department's publication XLottery Funding: The First Seven Years", the Secretary of State wrote: