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23 Oct 2002 : Column 302—continued

Caroline Flint: My right hon. Friend may recall the wide coverage given to the purchase of Winston Churchill's papers. I do not disagree with that, but one might say that a certain family benefited from it. However, is it not true that some things will please some people and not others and that you cannot please all the people all the time?

Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the community fund will occasionally pay money to organisations that may be critical of the Government— indeed, most charities in this country are from time to time—and it will certainly do things that the Daily Mail does not like, and rightly so. That is its job; it is what independence is all about. I have to say with some sadness that I am not surprised that the Tories are giving in to the braying bigotry of parts of our national media. That diminishes them, and it demeans some of our national newspapers. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to continue to resist following them down that road.

Miss Kirkbride: The right hon. Gentleman seems to accuse Conservative Members of being bigoted because we do not approve of the grant given to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns. Does he therefore think that the Home Secretary is bigoted in also disapproving of that grant?

Mr. Smith: I simply observe that every example quoted by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), first, came from the Daily Mail and, secondly, related to organisations responsible for supporting either asylum seekers or people who happen to be lesbian or gay. If that is not picking on minorities, I am not sure what is.

The second thing that I would tell my right hon. Friend is that, as she considers the representations now arriving in relation to her consultation on the lottery's

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future, she should resist any proposal that does away with the existing division of responsibilities for lottery distribution. I would remind her of the firm guarantee, which was put in place three or four years ago, that the existing percentages should be safeguarded for the arts, sport, heritage and charities for the entirety of the duration of the second franchise of the lottery. That commitment was given not just by me but by the Prime Minister and the whole Government.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): I am extremely grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said, because I totally agree with him. Does he think, however, that he would have had the opportunity to say that on the Floor of the House to the Secretary of State today had we not had a debate on the lottery?

Mr. Smith: Having a debate on the lottery is a useful opportunity for me to do so. It obviates the necessity for me to sit down and write a letter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make precisely the same point. The point, however, must be made, because ensuring that one sixth each of the good causes money goes to the arts, sport, heritage and charities—and making sure that that lasts into the future—is an important objective to which I trust she will hold fast.

My third point to my right hon. Friend and the House is that one issue remains that needs to be considered, on which the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) has touched—the extent of the balance of funds that are sitting in the national lottery distribution fund. A stubbornly constant figure of #3.5 billion sits in the fund. We have always said—and it is true—that it is all earmarked for approved projects, which have been applied for, considered and approved for grant by the various distributors. Those projects, however, by their very nature, take years to use up all the allocated money. Meanwhile, as those years progress, more funds flow in every week to the distribution fund. For the arts, sport and heritage in particular, that means that an outstanding amount of money is apparently sitting there waiting to be used.

I know that the Secretary of State has urged the distributors to bring the balances down. That will not happen, however, without a fundamental change to the way in which approvals can be made by the distribution bodies. I urge her to put in place a system of forward allocations—especially for the arts, sport and heritage—enabling the distributors to approve applications in advance of the funds coming in, but in the safe knowledge that the money will, in due course, come in. That, of course, will need a change to the Treasury rules. She will need to persuade her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it is worth doing, but it could provide a real solution to the distribution fund problem and could enable a real boost in immediate approvals in these important areas of activity.

We must all welcome the overall success of the lottery. We should resist the minority-bashing instincts of the Tory party. We should reassert the independence of the lottery distributors. We should repeat the guarantee of funding for the arts, sport, heritage and charities into the future, which has previously been given. Finally, we should look at new ways of ensuring that the available funds can be put into use more effectively and immediately.

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5.24 pm

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): I am grateful to be called to speak in this debate, not least to mark the significance of Members on both sides paying tribute to the previous Conservative Government. That is extremely rare.

Mr. Bryant: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Kirkbride: The hon. Gentleman should at least give me a few minutes. Although he is my colleague on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, I will not, on this occasion, allow him to disabuse me of my view that the previous Conservative Government should be accorded some merit. I, too, wish to place on record how pleased I am with the lottery and its funding of projects in my constituency.

I am especially pleased that the Secretary of State drew attention to some of the great capital projects that were funded by the millennium fund that was created under the lottery by the Conservative Government. However, she then appeared to contradict herself in her subsequent remark that the way in which they set up the lottery was not sufficiently democratic. There was a clear need to celebrate the millennium with projects, such as the Eden project in the constituency of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton), and we then had to move on to do other things with lottery funding.

I also congratulate the Secretary of State on her desire to consider how the lottery may change in the future and to assess whether we should allow people to earmark the good causes that they wish to fund when they purchase a ticket. I have some doubts as to whether that would work, because it would entail a great bureaucracy, but the suggestion has some merit and should be considered. It may encourage people to believe that their money is being spent wisely.

The lottery has been a fantastic success in my constituency. We have recently been given #250,000 to create a ward for the Primrose hospice at my local hospital. The money came out of the new opportunities fund and, in this context, I disagree with my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. So great is the public acclamation for such projects that the Government are right to consider the principle of additionality, which did not form part of the lottery when it was set up by the Conservative Government in the early 1990s.

I wish to refer to another project on my patch. I recently visited the Charford resource centre, which is in one of the few deprived areas in my constituency. Its chairman, Kevin McNamara, a former Labour councillor, has done fantastic work for the centre, which is supported by volunteers but has received #400,000 from the community fund. It has done fantastic work in providing IT skills to young mothers and to young people who are unable to go to college.

The community fund has done great work, and it is doing good work in my constituency, and that is why I am very cross with the award that it made recently to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), whose speech I have the honour of following, chose to say that, because

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Conservative Members disagree with that award, we are bigoted. I draw his attention to the fact that the Secretary of State also appears to oppose the award. It is certainly true that the Home Secretary disapproves of it. The whole awards procedure is brought into disrepute if the public feel that significant sums of money—#363,000 is a huge amount—that can do a tremendous amount of good work in all our constituencies go to such organisations. I know of other projects that I would like to receive funding, and I bet every Member can think of how to obtain good value from #363,000. Most of us do not believe it is good value to grant that sum to this organisation. British taxpayers already provide significant support to people coming to this country to claim asylum. We are a generous country, and it could be argued that our generosity to those who fear persecution is one reason why people come here.

Bob Russell: Will the hon. Lady confirm that the grant was allocated by a quango system established by the Conservative party when it was in government, and according to the rules, regulations and criteria of the legislation introduced by the Conservative Government of the day?

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