Previous SectionIndexHome Page

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): There is a great deal of consensus across the House on the benefits that the lottery has offered to so many of our communities and constituents. The Bill and today's debate, however, relate to the future.

I heard what the Minister said about the intentions behind the Bill, but the Bill itself gives the impression that the Government's aim is to centralise and assume
14 Jun 2005 : Column 195
much greater control over the way in which lottery funds are allocated and distributed. The Conservatives advocate giving power back to the people, giving them a greater say, and ensuring that we help charities and arts, sports and heritage projects. Unfortunately, my understanding of the Bill is that it will enable a greater politicisation of awards and the hand of Government to be seen to a greater extent. The Bill entrenches an approach that we have witnessed in the past few years.

Rightly or wrongly, there is growing resentment as a result of a number of awards given to apparently fringe organisations. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) alluded to public perception of the number of awards given and their actual value, but the public are experiencing a creeping sense of disquiet. To see that, I need only look at my local newspaper, which in the past fortnight has run the headline, "Fury over Lotto handout." There is a feeling that awards are not being fairly given to organisations in my constituency. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) highlighted the question of whether awards are distributed fairly across the country. My constituency falls within the London borough of Havering, which has received about £13 million in awards to good causes since the lottery was established, whereas the London borough of Greenwich has received £702 million in awards. Given such disparities, it is understandable that people are asking questions about awards and why they are given. The Bill does not address those concerns.

Those concerns are given greater emphasis when we see worthy and valuable organisations in our constituencies not being given awards. I can think of two cases in my area: St. Francis hospice applied for funding but was turned down, as did a local charity, First Step. Against that backdrop, people want to know where funding is going—they want transparency. Unfortunately, the Bill does not provide that transparency; if anything, it muddies the waters even more. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) has already quoted the Government response to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee's report on the national lottery, but I shall do so as well. In response to criticisms in relation to the principle of additionality, the Government said:

The Minister endorsed that statement, but it shows the clear link between the distribution of lottery funding and the views of the Government. That link is betrayed throughout the Bill.

Mr. Horwood: I repeat my question to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries). Hon. Members cannot have it both ways: either they must list the projects that they support and, presumably, be willing to intervene to influence lottery funding, or they must guarantee the lottery's independence.

James Brokenshire: I think that we should concentrate on the lottery's independence and give people back the power to decide how lottery funding should be given. That is entirely consistent with the arguments that Conservative Members have advanced about giving power back and passing power down.
14 Jun 2005 : Column 196

I have several specific concerns about the Bill's provisions, particularly the power given to the Secretary of State. Ministers have said that they are not trying to take power from the people and give it to the Government—that, in many ways, they are trying to maintain the lottery's independence—but that argument is not supported by the Bill. The House need only look at the swingeing powers taken under proposed new section 36E of the National Lottery etc. Act 1993, which would require the Big Lottery Fund to comply with directions given by the Secretary of State in almost every case, even if those directions are about who is to run the fund. The fact that such powers are being taken makes one question the independence of the organisation. Further restrictions are built into proposed new section 36B, which enables the Secretary of State to limit the monetary value of awards given to certain organisations.

It is hardly surprising that voluntary and charitable groups have voiced considerable concern about such provisions. Luke FitzHerbert, a senior researcher at the Directory of Social Change, has described the proposals as

and Stephen Bubb, of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, says that the Bill

The Bill clearly takes power back into the Government's hands, so such expressions of concern are not surprising.

The Secretary of State is away, and I understand why she could not be present for Second Reading, but it is interesting to read a letter that she kindly sent to me and other new Members in which she set out the reasons to support the Bill. Referring to the New Opportunities Fund, she wrote:

The point I take from that is that the initiatives are "specified by Government"—in other words, the fund is directed by the Government. Although Ministers might argue that individual grants are determined by the fund, if the overall framework and certain decisions are specified by the Government, what we see is direction by the Government.

I congratulate the Bill draftsmen on trying to set out the fund's independence by creating, in effect, a corporate body for the Big Lottery Fund and stating in schedule 2:

However, given all the powers reserved under the Bill and the clear prescription of the fund's terms of reference, the Big Lottery Fund looks very much like a servant or agent of the Government. The more closely one examines the legislation and the powers reserved for the Secretary of State, the more one thinks that it might have been clearer to state that the Secretary of State shall have control over 50 per cent. of the funds from the lottery and she will specify as she sees fit in relation to that money.
14 Jun 2005 : Column 197

I have a couple of specific questions about the Bill. I note that clause 8, on the reallocation of funds, says that in relation to the allocation between individual distributors, for example, Sport England, if we feel that that organisation is not performing correctly, the fund would be ring-fenced for the same beneficiary, so funds could be allocated to another sports body. Is there any provision that would prevent that going to the Big Lottery Fund? It seems that the 50 per cent. threshold is being increased. I wonder whether the Minister could answer that specific point when he replies.

A point that emerged from the Secretary of State's interesting letter was the funding that would come from the Big Lottery Fund—she referred to £60 million being made available for international grants. My understanding is that lottery funding has been ring-fenced for applications within the UK. There may be a misunderstanding on my part, but I am sure that it is not the public's understanding of how the money would be allocated. Perhaps the Minister would follow up this point when he replies to the debate.

I am left with the impression that the Government seek to extend control over the way in which lottery money is to be allocated. I shall refer to another poll, as I know that the Minister was keen to emphasise the importance of consulting the public. An ICM poll published last year showed that 73 per cent. of the public supported an independent public body deciding how lottery money was to be spent. From what I see in the Bill, that is not what we have on offer. The purpose behind the Bill is to take greater control, greater power and greater authority into the hands of the Secretary of State. Unfortunately, that is taking control further away from the people who buy the tickets and voluntarily spend their money on the lottery in good faith. I cannot support the Bill because of the powers that it is designed to put, to a much greater extent, in the Government's hands.

6.2 pm

Mr. Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): My background is in charity fundraising. I was the director of fundraising for the Alzheimer's Society. At times, I have spent days, nights and what seemed years of my life completing applications to various national lottery distributor bodies. At times, I have found them irritating, bureaucratic and arbitrary in their rule change—but still, in the end, overwhelmingly a good thing.

Quite a lot of irritation and bureaucracy will be suffered for the several millions of pounds that the Alzheimer's Society raises for carers and people with dementia from the national lottery, but it is worth doing. It seems that in this place it is not always easy to pay compliments to our opponents, but I should pay a compliment to the Conservative Government of John Major. Despite the irritations and the bureaucracy of the system, the national lottery distributors that were established were overwhelmingly a good thing. They were cheap to apply to and they were thoughtful in that they spent a great deal of time talking through, with applicants, exactly who would benefit from projects and how those projects would work. They were supportive of applicants, especially those with inexperience; they considered difficult and unpopular causes; and they had a good track record in supporting those causes.
14 Jun 2005 : Column 198

Many of the fears that were attached to the National Lottery etc. Act 1993 were that it would cannibalise existing fundraising. Those fears turned out to be unfounded. At the time, some charities were dependent on scratch card income. There was a great deal of publicity that they would lose money, but so much publicity was raised that their funds increased. Even they did well out of the Act.

The issue of additionality was mentioned during consideration of the 1993 legislation. As I rather unkindly mentioned to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), there were provisions in that Act to give the Secretary of State powers of direction. In practice, the Millennium Commission, the National Lottery Charities Board and the other distributors have acted independently for most of their history. That was much appreciated by those of us who were working in the sector. We appreciated the independence from Government that they were able to exercise.

Since the Labour party has come into Government we have watched with increasing concern the progress of the so-called reforms of the national lottery distribution. First, there was the establishment of the New Opportunities Fund, which seemed to us to be established purely to meet Government priorities—health, education and the environment. Those are worthy things but they have been used, as the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) said, to support state-run and state-funded institutions, which was never the idea of the national lottery. The lottery was there to support new causes with new money and new projects with new money.

When the earliest funding priorities of the New Opportunities Fund were announced at a Labour party conference, it was clear that political control was starting to play a major role in the way in which the funds were distributed. Then we noted, with even more concern, that when the Millennium Commission was wound up it was merged with the New Opportunities Fund. We have seen a gradual increase in the percentage of lottery funds under the more direct control of the Secretary of State. It has grown from 0 per cent. in 1993 to 13.5 per cent. in 1998, to 32 per cent. today and to 50 per cent. in the proposals that are before us. Earlier, the Minister was talking about moving forward, but it is clear in which direction the Government are moving—eventually, presumably, it is towards 100 per cent. control by the Secretary of State. Our fears have been realised by many recent announcements. For instance, there was the decision to fund the school dinners programme. That is worthy, but money will be stolen from lottery funds.

I was reassured by what the Minister said, namely, that there would be a departure from practice in the New Opportunities Fund, and from now on—I think that I am quoting him correctly—all important decisions would be taken by the Big Lottery Fund. That would be desirable, but we do not see that provision in the Bill. Given the Government's record, we need that provision in the Bill. Otherwise, that lottery funding becomes a tax-supporting Government policy. It may be voluntary, but it will still be a tax. That will gradually undermine ticket sales.

Next Section IndexHome Page