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23 Oct 2002 : Column 298—continued

Mr. Challen: Is the hon. Gentleman yet another Opposition Member who does not believe that manifesto pledges should be kept?

Bob Russell: The important thing is that election manifestos should not take the place of legislation. If the hon. Gentleman wants his party to change the legislation, that is for him and his party to do, but while it remains on the statute book the House should honour it. That is clear.

Mr. Bryant: Is not the whole point of manifesto pledges to change or to retain legislation?

Bob Russell: I am grateful for that intervention. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is unaware of the difference between a manifesto commitment and legislation.

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Manifesto commitments lead to legislation, but as far as I know the House has not yet voted on the change to which I referred. In my opinion, this is the most regressive of the stealth taxes that the Government have so far utilised.

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that he opposes the new opportunities fund, but I am sure that schools in Colchester—like those in Leigh—will soon be receiving money for new sports facilities under the new opportunities for school sports initiative. Will he give the House an assurance that he will not attend the photo opportunity when those facilities are opened?

Bob Russell: I am not going to give such a commitment, because I would not pass up a chance like that. [Laughter.] I would be much happier, though, if the funding had come from the proper source and if the Government's education policies did something to replace all the demountable classrooms in my constituency. That is not at present on the lottery shopping list, but watch this space.

Lottery funding is not a long-term answer to the longstanding problems in our public services. If Ministers wish to pay for projects such as cancer care or teaching our librarians and teachers to use computers, they should not fund those projects at the expense of the good causes.

Dr. Evan Harris: Is my hon. Friend aware that many hospices providing terminal care for people with cancer rely on lottery funding? Many lottery decisions are predicated on geographical factors—which areas will receive funding and which will not—which means that hospices endure a lottery in lottery funding, as well as in NHS funding, even though they provide services that should be core NHS-fundable services.

Bob Russell: I endorse what my hon. Friend says. Life is a lottery, and that is a classic example.

Mr. Challen: The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that we should not have charitable support for health services, but we have always had campaigns in local newspapers raising money for machinery for hospitals. Why should the lottery be treated any differently?

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): Because the law says so.

Bob Russell: Exactly. If punters are allowed to choose the destination for the proceeds from their purchase, as suggested in the recent consultation documents on the lottery, that is exactly what could happen. Given the choice, most people would choose to fund cancer care over community centres, but when Parliament created the lottery the intention was to remove such choices. Those schemes should not be mutually exclusive. As the Secretary of State argued in the foreword to a departmental publication, the lottery should enable

Cancer care should be funded out of general taxation, because it is a priority and would go ahead anyway. Conservation areas can be financed from lottery grants because they are not a priority and may not otherwise go ahead.

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The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has pointed out that lottery funding works best when it is free from direct Government control. The community fund has shown its independence from Government and has responded to genuine local needs. Picking out a few individual lottery grants for criticism should not deflect attention from the important work that the community fund has done over its eight years of operation as an independent body.

The most valuable gift that politicians can give to lottery fund distributors is their independence. The ability to distance themselves from Ministers has enabled distributors to contribute to significant successes, from big schemes such as the Eden project to smaller programmes across the country, helping to regenerate communities, rescue buildings and increase skills. However, we need only recall the millennium dome for evidence of what happens when politicians seek to lead with such projects.

The best projects are community led, respond to local needs and are driven by local people. Sometimes the aims of those people and the groups to which they belong are contrary to the Government's aims, but that makes them no less legitimate. Indeed, the chances are that it makes them more legitimate. Involving people in decisions in their communities is an invaluable exercise that can engage people in regeneration, community awareness and local politics. If the price of perpetuating that involvement is that the occasional grant is condemned by the Daily Mail, so be it.

Where the Government need to involve themselves more closely is in ensuring that the poorest and most deprived areas receive their fair share of funding. In 2001, four of the 81 most deprived districts in the United Kingdom received no new opportunities fund money. Thirty-three of those 81 received less than the national average. Of the 80 districts that received more than #10 per head, not even half appeared on the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions list of the most deprived districts. The fair shares programme has gone some way to redressing that but distributors need to be extra vigilant in ensuring that they are not giving grants merely to those who have the means to apply for them.

Mr. Bryant: There is an important point about different areas being described, or not described, as deprived. My constituency of Rhondda consists of seven or eight wards that would be listed among the poorest in Wales; indeed, they would be listed among the poorest in Europe. However, because Rhondda Cynon Taff, the local authority in which my constituency falls, also contains some of the wealthier wards in Wales, all of which are in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), grants that go to my constituency might not be counted as going to the poorest in the country.

Bob Russell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification but I think that he is in a way agreeing that we need to focus attention on the poorest areas to ensure that they get at least their fair share.

Ministers also need to be vigilant about how quickly awards are paid. Millions of pounds are still held for national lottery distribution but are not yet committed,

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despite the debate that we had on the subject some six months ago. On that occasion, my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) criticised the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for the fact that lottery funds were not being distributed on time. He said:

Those funds had been allocated but not yet distributed to projects. My hon. Friend said that

That is the equivalent of almost two years' income. If it were easier for prospective applicants to apply for grants, that would not be the case. A one-stop shop for applicants would remove many of the hurdles for groups that would normally be put off applying for a grant, and enable money to be siphoned down to areas that need it most, which often happen to be those least likely to apply.

Falling lottery sales are a continuing concern to the good causes. Bodies such as Sport England have little alternative to grant in aid and lottery funding. They would be hamstrung by significant falls in income. Projects such as those that Sport England has funded and that have more than doubled facility usage in many cases would surely have to come to an end without alternative revenue streams.

Camelot's sales improvement programme is designed to arrest the fall in sales, but we need to explore other areas, too. I would like lottery-supported schemes to display the fact that they have been helped by lottery ticket sales in the hope that that will reconnect lottery ticket buyers with good causes. I have not met that many people who play the lottery whose prime concern is the good causes. I think that they have an ulterior objective. Nevertheless, they need to be told where the money is going—to the good causes—and to be reminded that when they purchase a ticket they are not only participating in a prize draw but helping to support good causes in and around their community.

Whatever steps are taken, we need to ensure that they are taken quickly. Sustained falls in sales will see the lottery diminish, and with it many of the programmes that our communities hold most dear.

5.13 pm

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury): There is common ground among hon. Members: we all recognise the enormous importance of what the lottery has achieved. I vividly recall attending the opening of the Olympic games in Sydney just over two years ago and meeting athletes from the British team. Time after time, they thanked me for the lottery funding that had enabled them to develop their potential to fulfil what they were capable of and to give them a real chance of doing credit not just to themselves, but to this country.

I am also acutely conscious of the benefits of projects that have been able to go ahead in my constituency. Building work will be completed shortly on the London Symphony Orchestra's music education centre at

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St. Luke's church, Old street, so transforming one of the greatest of London's old churches into a centre that will provide the opportunity for children and others from many parts of London to have the experience of working with one of the world's greatest orchestras. That project, which is jointly funded by arts lottery and heritage lottery money, is a splendid example of what can be achieved by lottery funding and would not otherwise be possible.

Virtually all hon. Members agree absolutely that the lottery has a done a huge amount of good, but it is now under attack, so I want to say three things this afternoon. First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on standing up firmly for the robust independence of the lottery distributors, especially the community fund. That independence was, of course, put in place by the Tory Government. It was fought for fiercely by one Tory Front Bencher after another, and there have been rather a lot of them over the years.

Of course, the community fund will occasionally do things that many people do not like. It will give money to organisations that look after the interests of minorities. I have to observe, in case the Conservative party has not yet tumbled to this, that democracy is surely every bit as much about looking after the interests of minorities as about representing the views of the majority.

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