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23 Oct 2002 : Column 321continued
The debate has been depressing for yet another reason. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we have seen the bandwagon tendency in full and fine fettle. We thought that some of the wheels had fallen off the bandwagon, but it is clear that it is more of a fire brigade tender and that all its wheels are rolling.
The first matter is the arm's length principle, which has been discussed in some detail. It was curious to hear demands that politicians should ensure that certain organisations should not get grants, and at the same time arguments that there should be an arm's length principle. I used to be a councillor in Hackney, and I have seen the terrible complications that can arise when councillors must decide which organisations should receive grants. My experience leads me to believe passionately that politicians should draw up the broad guidelines for applications, but that it is quintessentially fundamental that they should not be involved in doling out grants.
The second matter that I want to raise has been skated over somewhat in the debate. It is the question whether charities should be able, or allowed, to engage in politics. I believe that charities play a vital role in bringing to the political world's attention many of the problems that affect the most marginalised groups in society. Taking away from Oxfam, Christian Aid, Help the Aged or any of the other charities that we know and love the ability to campaign would deprive the political world of an enormous resource.
Of course, charities should not be involved in party-political engagements, and the Charity Commissioners should provide robust guidelines on the political engagements in which it is appropriate for charities to be involved, but there should not be the blanket ban on political campaigning implied by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford.
Thirdly, several hon. Members have mentioned the matter of fair shares. Geographical parity might be desirable, but it is not the end of the story. The lottery should first try to address need. Almost inevitably, allocations to the arts and to sports will go to centres of excellence, giving rise to the sort of list referred to earlier by the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). However, I still want much greater focus on the needs of communities, and especially of those communities that are most deprived.I think that the hon. Gentleman made a strong argument for the Government's decision to establish the new opportunities fund and for changing the priorities of the community fund. He made the argument for the Government.
In my constituency, the new opportunities fund has meant that the Rhondda cardiac support group has received a grant, as have the Clydach vale community centre, which provides a breakfast club and a holiday club for children aged between three and 11, and the Pontygwaith community centre, which provides after-school places for three to 11-year-olds. The groups that I have mentioned are in three of the poorest wards in Europe. The new opportunities fund has therefore been invaluable in ensuring that more money goes to the most deprived communities in the country.
Andrew Selous: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with my point that constituencies around the country that have significant pockets of disadvantage are currently not accessing money from the new opportunities fund?
I turn now to the community fund, and two grants just made from that source. One grant, of #199,000, has gone to the Cwmparc community welfare association in my constituency. The other grant relates to a debate that was held yesterday in Westminster Hall. The Parent Project UK has just received #45,000 to help it provide support and understanding for people suffering from Duchesne muscular dystrophy. In that connection, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), who has already made it known that he is in the Chamber. However, constituencies such as mine still only receive some 40 per cent. of the average allocation nationally.
I welcome the changes introduced by the Government, and devolution has made possible greater accountability on the part of the funding organisations. I support the specific measures for former mining constituencies and this summer's announcements, bearing in mind the difficulties in trying to ensure that genuinely deprived areas receive the most support.
Finally, there has been some talk from Conservative Members about political correctness. I am proud to be politically correct if that means treating everybody equally. Yes, I am politically correct if it means turning my back on the knee-jerk xenophobia and homophobia that we have seen this evening. Yes, I am politically correct if it means saying that charity does not begin and end at home and if it means supporting the most needy, even if they are not necessarily the most respectable. I am politically correct if that means thinking before believing everything that appears in the Daily Mail.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): It is entirely appropriate that the Conservative party, which created the national lottery, should use one of its supply days to debate one of the great successes of social policy of recent years and discuss what Parliament and the Government should do to ensure its continuing success. The Secretary of State described our debate as opportunistic, but without the debate we would not have had a statement on what many think is the worst crisis affecting the lottery during its eight years of existence, nor would we have been likely to have a debate on the Secretary of State's consultation papers.
When the lottery was launched eight years ago, no one dared predict the scale of success that has in fact been achieved. However, the march of success has now falteredbadly so in recent weeks. If we are to have any hope of halting and reversing the decline, we need to understand why fewer people are buying lottery tickets. I was astonished that the Secretary of State had nothing to say about the fall in lottery ticket sales. It was always obvious that some players would lose interest, but the recent drop in sales is due to more than player fatigue. The hon. Member for Watford (Claire Ward) was rightthe adverse publicity attached to criticism of just a handful of grants has deeply damaged the public's
In an effort to bring down the temperature a little, let me be the first to acknowledge that there have always been controversial grants, and probably always will be; when we were in government, I raised precisely that point with the then Prime Minister. That is part of the price of sticking to the arm's-length principle. Nevertheless, some of the beneficiaries of recent community fund grants should have come as no surprise to Ministers.
In 1999, the community fund guidelines were amended. That has been acknowledged. Ministers both promoted to Parliament and approved the community fund strategic plan, which included specific reference to targeting organisations supporting asylum seekers and refugees. That in itself was not the problem. What appears to have been lacking was a sufficiently robust regime for grant approvals to prevent any organisations that benefited from the programme supporting, for example, moves to prevent the deportation of criminalsthe Home Secretary's criticismor engaging in doctrinaire political campaigns way beyond what should be acceptable from an organisation in receipt of public money. As the Secretary of State has said, the community fund appears to recognise that. However, the solution is not to abolish the community fund or the other distributors. I welcome the timely reminder given by the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), about the second licence promise to the distributor bodies. We need to improve internal procedures and reconsider the guidelines that the distributors are given by the Government.
I profoundly disagree with the Secretary of State's comment that there were flaws in the lottery structure. There was nothing seriously wrong with the structure of distribution established for the lottery at the outset, although its priorities were always bound to develop. What has happened since, under this Government, has undermined public confidence in the lottery. In particular, the creation of the new opportunities fund has corrupted the crucial principle of additionality. One needs only to talk to the other funding bodies to know how deeply that is resented in the country and throughout the lottery scene. If we want the lottery to support health and education in the form of schools and hospitals, we should not do so through an organisation that has such close ties to Government Departments, mandated to fund initiatives that are central to the Government's policy strategy. Government policy initiatives relating to school sport, for example, should be funded out of taxation, not the lottery. That is not the same as saying that schools should not benefit. As I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), Sport England has funded school projects in my constituency, provided that they are for community use.
The public recognise that the lottery is increasingly being used as a means of delivering the Government's agenda rather than what schools or voluntary organisations have determined they want to achieve for their community. The lottery was established to provide an independent stream of money to support local action and self-help. In our view, it needs to return to that first principle.