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I agree wholeheartedly with what my hon. Friend is saying. I come back to the point that I made earlier. Many worthwhile schemes in her constituency and mineShipleyseem to be overruled and yet money is given to national deportation groups and other politically correct groups, like that which the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) was praising earlier. Members of the public, at least in the Shipley
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constituency, do not want national lottery funding to go to such things. They want it to go to things that do a worthwhile job, such as the ones that my hon. Friend has mentioned in her constituency. Does she agree that there is nothing in the Bill that will stop these politically correct national deportation groups and the like, getting huge grants from national lottery funding at the expense of more worthwhile groups in her constituency and mine?
Mrs. Dorries: I thank my hon. Friend. There are many bizarre examples, which none of us would want to waste time quoting today. We have heard of Peruvian farmers being given a grant to make guinea pigs fatter for human consumption; we could all throw in many such examples. Those are the examples that irritate my constituents.
There is a home nursing group, not in my constituency, but which serves as a model throughout the country. That home nursing group provides care for people who are terminally ill, in their own home. It was refused lottery funding, even though it saves the NHS a great deal of money by looking after people at home and is a model for the nation to copy; and yet we have bizarre examples such as the one that I just quoted.
Mr. Swire: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. No doubt she was going to reply to that intervention by reminding the hon. Gentleman that if he had read our election manifesto, which is well worth reading, he would have seen that we were proposing to allow for a reputational impact, so that a body could refuse to make one of these controversial grants if it would impact on that body in future.
Mrs. Dorries: I shall conclude by saying that the way in which lottery funding is allocated should at the very least be fair, and it should be equitable, across all constituencies. It should be above party politics. The reality is that the Big Lottery Fund is just another way for big Government to interfere in the running of the lottery fund.
Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con):
I am pleased to contribute to the debate on this important issue. It is important because in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies that I am aware of, the lottery has been the main facilitator of numerous community-based projects that have been completed since it was so successfully introduced by the last Conservative Government. Other Members have mentioned multi-million pound projects that have been funded. I feel rather envious of those projects because since the lottery began, my constituency has had only one, to my
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knowledge, although we have had a large number of much smaller distributions. In the seven years since the beginning of 1998 we have had 374 individual projects funded by the lottery for a total of £14.4 million, and in many cases it was the core funding that enabled entire projects to be completed.
I should like to see three specific aspects of the lottery's operation confirmed in Committee. I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who is not in his seat, that only four days have been allotted to the Committee stage.
The first issue that I should like to raise is the impact of allocations for heritage projects. Admittedly, the Ludlow constituency is blessed by a particularly rich cultural and historic heritage, and consequently more of our projects have tended to be allocated in that direction. In fact, since the beginning of 1998 the Heritage Lottery Fund has made 54 awards, accounting for 14 per cent. of the awards that I have mentioned. Their combined value is £4.7 million, so 33 per cent. of the money granted by the lottery distributors has been given to heritage in my constituency. That is probably one of the highest percentages in the country.
If I heard the Minister's opening remarks correctly, he said that despite the establishment of the Big Lottery Fund, the proposals will not alter the allocation of funding by distributors, including for heritage and the arts. From my reading of the Bill and the explanatory notes, that is a surprise; but if true, it is welcome. He also said that between 60 and 70 per cent. of the Big Lottery Fund will go to communities and charities. Does that mean that there could be an overlap between distributors? To maintain allocations, will projects have to apply to two distributors to achieve equivalence of allocation, or are the Minister's remarks relevant only on a national average basis, rather than on a local area basis? I do not understand that point
Mr. Dunne: I thank the Minister. In that case, it seems more likely that applications will have to be made to two distributors to achieve the same level of funding for the projects to which I have referred.
I am especially concerned about the lottery's impact on major restorations of heritage monuments and features, for example, the Teme Weirs trust in Ludlow and the pending restoration of Ludlow's town walls, to which I have already referred in this place. Without equivalence of allocation to the Heritage Lottery Fund, it is unlikely that such projects will be completed. The trustees of the new Big Lottery Fund are unlikely to give much priority to heritage projects, as they will consider that they are already well provided for due to the continuance of the Heritage Lottery Fund.
My second concern is the key question of trust, a subject that my party raised during the general election. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) referred to the increased participation in the lottery over the past couple of years. Continued strength
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of revenue and funding for good causes obviously relies to a considerable degree on public confidence in the lottery and in the awards made by its distributing bodies. By introducing the potential for Government influence on the Big Lottery Fund, the Bill could undermine that confidence, which in turn will undermine revenues.
To give a local example, it is, regrettably, well known in my constituency that the Shropshire hospitals NHS trust is sitting on a colossal deficit, rumoured in the press to be close to £20 million. I am delighted to say, however, that on 24 February 2005 a brand new MRI scanner was delivered to the Royal Shrewsbury hospital, funded in part by voluntary donation and the lottery, but I regret to tell the House that the machine has yet to be turned on. It is well known in Shropshire that the MRI scanner is sitting in a purpose-built facility in the hospital, but that the trust does not have enough funding to use it. People in Shropshire suspect that if lottery funding can be used to supply equipment to the NHS, welcome though that equipment is, it may be used to help run the equipment in the future, which will undermine confidence in the lottery and participation in the game.
As I am from a rural constituency, I should like to endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), who said that confidence would also be undermined if funding were awarded to causes that bear no relevance, or seem to bear no relevance, to people in the UK. If, as my hon. Friend said, we are funding guinea pig producers in Peru, that will not inspire confidence in the lottery distribution system.
My third point may relate to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I am concerned about access to information about lottery funding. After awards have been made and projects completed, it is possible to obtain full access to information about where allocations were made, but sometimes such information is not made readily available on projects where, although a decision has been made to allocate funding, it has not yet all been supplied. I am thinking of a case brought to my attention by a fellow councillor on South Shropshire district council: a substantial sum has allegedly been given to a local voluntary organisation, but he has had difficulty securing information on the project. The organisation in question is the Ludlow youth forum, which does some very useful work, especially in drug rehabilitation. My concern is that we have had great difficulty finding out how much money has been provided to that organisation by lottery and other bodies. To raise that matter in this debate might be to stray somewhat from the Bill, but I should be grateful if the Minister would write to me on the subject, or mention it in his winding-up speech. I hope to speak in Committee about the three concerns that I have raised in this debate.
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