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23 Oct 2002 : Column 318—continued

Andrew Selous: I feel compelled to intervene on the hon. Gentleman. The reason why some Conservative Members have raised this matter is because we do care about the lottery. We raised it for no reason other than that we want the lottery to prosper and levels of giving to increase. I alluded to the distribution of certain lottery money only briefly in my speech, so please do not demean our motives in raising the matter.

Mr. Challen: I certainly do not want to demean the motives of the seven Opposition Members present; they are the ones who have not choked on their cornflakes, having read the Daily Mail, and at least they have attended today's debate.

Mr. Francois: I want to take this opportunity to commend the hon. Gentleman for all the work that he has done on behalf of those of us who—at the moment, at least—are at the very bottom of the pile in terms of payouts to our constituencies. Does he agree that there is a real problem in those constituencies? Is there not a danger that, because so many bids have been refused, people will begin to give up if they do not see some genuine return for their efforts?

Mr. Challen: That is exactly the point that I am making, and I am glad that there is cross-party consensus on it. For that reason, we should get down to the real issues, and avoid the headline-grabbing stuff and the kind of discussion that puts people off buying tickets. There may be many good reasons why they should not buy tickets, but the subject of this debate is not one of them.

6.21 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): The hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen) has shown precisely why it was so sensible of Her Majesty's loyal

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Opposition to table a motion on the national lottery: so he could have his say, put his constituency interests before the House, and make a wider point on behalf of other constituencies that themselves have not done so well out of the lottery. I am therefore sorry that he has chosen to attack the Opposition, instead of thanking us for presenting him with the opportunity to make his case.

I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) when he says that there is a lot of common ground between us on the subject of the national lottery. Tribute has been paid to John Major for his Government's initiative in setting up the national lottery. I think that it was a good idea, and I myself am an investor. Indeed, if my wife is watching now, could she please make sure that she has purchased our ticket for tonight? [Interruption.] I have a very loyal wife, and I am sure that she is watching now. A ticket costs no more than #2.

As I said, there is a lot of common ground between us, and there is no doubt that the lottery has done great work, but the dome was an unmitigated disaster. The taking of #800 million of lottery players' money for that white elephant—now destroyed—was a tragedy. However, today is about having a perfectly legitimate debate on the priorities of the national lottery. Hon. Members have, in different ways, expressed their views about their sense of priorities. I remind the House that this issue came to light because Simon Weston, at the invitation of the Conservative party, came to our conference—not as a Conservative, but as a veteran—to explain how veterans feel about the way that they are dealt with not only by this Government, but by previous Governments. It was as a result of the impassioned plea of Simon Weston—formerly of the Welsh Guards, and one of the heroes of the Falklands campaign—that his comments came to public knowledge.

I commend the Daily Mail for running a campaign that highlighted, in essence, what I want to talk about tonight: the allocation of funds for one sector of our community—our ex-service men and the organisations that sustain them—that the entire House surely feels deserves a higher priority than it is currently accorded. There could not be a more appropriate day to discuss this, for it is today that we have marked in Westminster Abbey the 60th anniversary of the battle of El Alamein. Those of us who saw Jon Snow's television programme—made with the help of his son, Peter—at the weekend, had brought home to us the enormity of the horrendous nature of that campaign.

El Alamein was like many other campaigns of the second world war, but they are not the only ones. In the Falkland islands—part of the United Kingdom's territories—255 British service men lost their lives fighting for the freedom of the islanders. According to the Secretary of State, only #1 million out of #12 billion goes to service charities. That is unfortunate, but in fact she has slightly understated the situation. I can tell the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting, for whom I have much time—not that I wish to harm his prospects within his own party—that, according to the Library, there are 163 projects that are associated with ex-service charities, and so on. Funding totals #1.6 million, which equals about #10,000 per project. These are great projects, and I am not denying that work has been done for service charities. Many hon. Members

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will know from their constituency work that there is some activity in respect of the British Legion, the Normandy veterans and—as I discovered in my maternal home of the borders of Scotland—a number of pipe bands. Those are great causes, but there are very few large projects.

For example, as I mentioned in an intervention, it is unfortunate that a few years ago St. Dunstan's was unsuccessful in applying for a grant of #600,000—not a huge sum, in lottery terms—for a rehabilitation centre. As hon. Members will know, a young cadet went to the Territorial Army centre in Hammersmith, west London, a couple of years ago and picked up what he thought was a torch on the ground. It was an IRA bomb, and as a result he lost his sight. It is St. Dunstan's that picked him up, and that is what our service charities are doing every day of the week. They do not make a big fuss about it; they do it quietly, and they are a huge rock for those who have served their country, witnessed horrendous scenes, and sacrificed sight, limb or hearing for their country. I do not believe that, as currently constituted, the national lottery is giving those men and women—who deserve our support on their behalf—the proper priority that they deserve. That is what this debate is about.

The Royal Naval Benevolent Trust was told by a lottery official that it would not be worth its bothering to apply for a grant, since it has too much money in reserve already. The money that it has in reserve is used to generate income to pay current expenses. It was looking for some support for a capital project, but that was not forthcoming. The Government are not unwilling to give directions—or guidelines, as they are perhaps called—to those who distribute the funds. I want those guidelines firmly to encompass the service charities, which are not supported by the Ministry of Defence or by the Government. In fact, they are supported largely by the ex-service community itself and, of course, by the wider public at the time of the poppy appeal. I believe that some #19 million was given last year—a sum that reflects the priority that the public give to our ex-service men.

I hope that the Government will think very carefully about this issue. I hope that they will recognise that there is something wrong here, that they have the opportunity to put it right, and that they will do so as soon as possible. Simon Weston said that 20 per cent. of London's rough sleepers are ex-service men. We owe it to them to do more than we are doing; #1.6 million out of #12 billion simply does not reflect the duty that we owe. We have a chance to do something for them, and I hope that the Government will take it today without compromising the independence of the awarding authorities, but by pointing out to them the role that these people play in our society.

I am glad that the Government have agreed to ask Simon Weston to give evidence. He made an impassioned plea, which struck a chord. It was the Daily Mail that picked it up, and I hope that this House will listen to what has been said, and act on it.

6.30 pm

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I am especially pleased to follow the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who spoke with great sincerity on behalf of his constituents and of the many people in the country who would agree wholeheartedly with much of

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what he said. However, I am being similarly sincere when I remind the hon. Gentleman of the motion under debate. Many of us would have preferred to debate a motion on the principles that he has elucidated, but they are not what is under discussion.

It is not a question of the national lottery supporting only veterans, or only the organisations referred to this evening. It should support both. In my constituency, one is less likely to meet veterans at the various veterans' organisations than at the local community association or Labour club. Throughout the Rhondda, there are people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s who fought for this country in the past.

Also, the best way to help veterans sleeping rough in London is not by helping veterans' organisations specifically but by helping rough sleepers organisations. That is what many funding bodies are trying to do.

My plea as MP for the Rhondda is similar to that made by the hon. Member for Aldershot on behalf of his own constituents. We also owe a duty to this country's miners, many of whom died trying to create and build this country's prosperity. Over the years, mining constituencies across the country have not received a fair share of the lottery allocations cake. That is a matter of regret. I am glad that, since 1997, the Government have sought to address that problem, but there is still a long way to go. The average mining constituency in Wales receives only 40 per cent. of the average UK lottery allocation. That problem affects many Labour Members and, despite the kind remarks made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, many of us still want to press the Government on it.

I confess that some contributions from Conservative Members to the debate have been depressing. The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) gave us the old, old story. I longed for the bright shoes of the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), and for a debate that revealed some of the colour of the supposedly nice party that the Conservative party has become. Yet we got a list of organisations—representing women, gays and foreigners—that should not receive money. That is the old Conservative party, just as nasty as ever.

I have shared many a pleasant Select Committee day with the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride), but she seemed to argue that children and young people should no longer be a priority, and that we should not expressly consider their needs when it comes to lottery allocations. For her, it seemed to be a question of veterans in, children and young people out. I think that that is a false dichotomy.

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