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23 Oct 2002 : Column 325—continued

Andy Burnham: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Greenway: No, I will not, because I have only a few minutes left.

The Secretary of State recognises that all is far from well. We agree that a review of lottery funding is appropriate, although we have different solutions to offer. We agree that we need at the very least to correct inequalities of funding between the funding bodies. The new opportunities fund receives one third, while the rest receives one sixth. That is perverse and unfair.

We agree, too, that there is a need to make the application process easier and more user friendly. Increasingly, however, the disappointment of rejection is due to a lack of money, for sport and charities especially. That is why we have said for some time that a way should be found to enable at least a part of the significant sum of unspent money to be released to boost spending. Lottery money is often earmarked by the Government for other projects, which reduces the amount of money available for local good causes. It is as if the lottery candle is being burned at both ends, and it cannot stand the reduction in ticket purchases.

Finally, we agree that local decision making should be enhanced. However, the consultation paper talks of establishing local awards committees, with more than a hint of local authority involvement.

The Secretary of State has said that we should keep politicians out of the grant decision process, and we agree, but that should apply to local councillors, regional development agencies and regional assemblies as well as Ministers. The lottery should not be seen as a community resource or slush fund for local authorities or assemblies as a substitute for public funds.

For the lottery to have a vibrant future, the twin core principles of arm's-length and additionality on which it was based but which have been corrupted under this Government must be reasserted. The Conservative party created the lottery, and we remain one of its staunchest champions. In a White Paper in 1997, new Labour promised a lottery for the people. With respect, it already was a lottery for the people, but it has increasingly become a lottery for the state. For us, any lottery worth having helps volunteers, charities and independent organisations, not public sector bodies, to improve the quality of life for our people and communities. It helps our athletes and our young musicians achieve their hopes and aspirations. It helps charities provide support for the weak and most

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vulnerable in our society. That was, and remains, central to the Conservative vision for the national lottery. It is a vision that we commend to the Secretary of State.

6.50 pm

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): We have held an excellent debate, which was refreshingly free from some of the things that could have infected it. I am glad about that.

I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members will join me in commending the hard work done for the lottery by the Minister for Sport, who owing to family difficulties cannot be at the Dispatch Box this evening. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, too, has done an enormous amount to make the lottery relevant to contemporary society.

We have heard many excellent contributions. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made an important point about ticket sales and income from the lottery. We expect lottery sales to be well over #4.5 billion this year and to contribute well over #1.2 billion to good causes. That is a large amount by any reckoning and it is hugely important for good causes of every sort throughout the country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will mark my words: it is extremely important that we help in every way we can to sustain that level of income. That point raises questions which have not been discussed today about the nature of the gains or how they should evolve. Those essential questions have been absent from the debate.

I thank the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) for making an important point about ensuring that many small outlets do not lose their lottery franchise. I am sure that he and other Members will want to know that Camelot introduced sales incentive schemes earlier this year to ensure that the money for good causes is maximised. Obviously, Camelot wants the maximum number of outlets. I understand that the company is spending time with every retailer who is experiencing difficulties and is in danger of losing their terminal. Camelot field executives have instituted a training period of more than 26 weeks to help such retailers to reach their weekly sales targets.

The hon. Gentleman's comments were important, because the last thing we need is for shops, often in vulnerable areas, to lose the attraction of the lottery. Ultimately, the decision for Camelot is commercial, as it should be. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be interested—I certainly was—to learn that more than 100,000 retail outlets are on a waiting list for a line terminal.

The hon. Member for Colchester and other Members asked whether sport was suffering. School sport alone will receive #750 million. That is a great achievement that, hopefully, will produce the goods in terms of winning teams. Most important, however, is the fact that so many young children will be involved in activities that they would never otherwise have taken part in. That is a great step forward. We should celebrate it, not knock it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) raised the issue of balances, which has been extremely important since the lottery began. I am sure that he knows that the Government are working with the distributing bodies to

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ensure that lottery funds are not only committed to projects, but paid over to project operators as quickly as possible. We want lottery funds to give the greatest and fastest possible benefits on the ground.

My right hon. Friend was right to highlight the fact that the balance is enormous: about #3.6 billion. The lottery distributing bodies forecast that it will more than halve, to #1.6 billion, by March 2004. I assure him that the Government attach high priority to ensuring that that reduction takes place so that good causes will benefit to the greatest extent from the money raised by the lottery.

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) reminded us of how the money can be used. She painted a vivid picture of the difference that it will make in her constituency, especially as regards health care. Quite properly, she referred to the accountability of quangos. I use the word Xquango", as it would take too long to explain it. I feel strongly about quangos. Sometimes, they work extremely well; at other times, they do not work too well, but they should always be accountable. As I come from Wales—a country that seemed for a long time to be run by wholly unaccountable quangos, although we have changed that—I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Lady's comments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Claire Ward) described some of the splendid schemes in her constituency—for example, the out-of-school clubs that are such a boon. She asked the House to understand that we owe a duty to fund small but vital grants for organisations that will never receive publicity. Such organisations will certainly never be controversial like those that, through controversy, actually win funds. Lottery funds are the lifeblood of the organisations to which she referred and I support her observations.

The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) urged us to consider carefully the simplification of the application process. That is an important point. He and other Members will be pleased to learn that, as part of the current review of lottery funding, we are examining the application process. The review has resulted in several proposals to improve the process, including a single application form, electronic applications and one-stop shops. Those innovations could bring real advantages.

There were many contributions, and I cannot answer them all this evening. The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) was right to refer to community halls—another important issue. He will be pleased to learn that we have been working with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and taking a lead on a cross-cutting review of the funding for village halls, in liaison with all the stakeholders—if I may use that terrible word—including the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to demonstrate the amount of funding needed to develop village halls. The review will also examine the funding process and other issues such as access for disabled people—to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Such access can be expensive but it should form part of the civil rights of disabled people. We shall certainly not try to get around that problem.

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There were many contributions—

Bob Spink rose—

Dr. Howells: I cannot give way now. Indeed, I may have been about to answer the question that the hon. Gentleman wanted to ask.

Many Members referred to the need to ensure fair shares. My remarks may be a little controversial, but coming from a constituency that until recently was a coalmining constituency, I can say that the greatest poverty that we have suffered is a poverty of aspirations for ourselves—not necessarily for our children—and for our communities. We should start to forget the history involved; otherwise we could argue with each other from now until the end of time. If we do not raise that level of aspiration and start looking to the sky for the future of our communities, we will never achieve any of the improvement that is so important to us. That poverty of aspiration is at the heart of many of the problems that have been experienced with the lack of funding going to some constituencies. There could be many reasons for that, but we must tackle it quickly. I commend the work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done in trying to draw together such constituencies to discover how we can improve matters.

The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) made an impassioned plea, and properly so. We owe those people who defeated fascism, the Nazis and the rest of those scum a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. We must take care of those people and I hope that the hon. Gentleman's words will be heard outside the House. They have certainly been heard inside the House—

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