Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD):
I wish to make a fairly brief contribution on behalf of a number of my constituents who are in what I suppose is
14 Jun 2005 : Column 207
a growing band of the disappointed. It is not that they expect to wander down to the results every week to find that they have won a huge amount; they have simply become part of a growing number of people who have become disappointed by being involved in one way or another with rejected applications for funding.
The group to which I refer consists of village halls and community centres. It is not surprising that a growing number of people have become disappointed when we bear in mind the role of such buildings in community work and the huge number of people who become involved in them. Almost from first thing in the morning to last thing at night, those buildings are used for a variety of activities. In the mornings, they are used for children's playgroups, nurseries and early-years education. Later on, there are coffee mornings and fundraising activities. At lunchtime, there are old and lonely people's luncheon clubs, and in the afternoons, there are forums where people meet as part of community groups. Some places have tea dances, and moving on to the late afternoon, there are after-school clubs and meetings for Beavers, Cubs and St. John Ambulance cadets. In the evenings, there are sports such as badminton, meetings of Scouts and Guides, committee meetings, fundraising activities and community events. It is not surprising that in many communities, especially in rural areas, a vast number of people have become interactive with what happens in their village hall or community centre.
When the lottery was introduced, a fairly significant number of capital grants were available for refurbishments, replacements and even brand new facilities. I am pleased to say that some such developments occurred in my constituency, but that happened a long time ago. There have been very few, if any, such awards in more recent times. The Countryside Agency had a vital villages initiative to enable some more funding to be available for projects, but it was quickly curtailed. Many of those involved are now being asked to raise their contribution to a refurbishment or even replacement in the hopemost of the time, it is a forlorn hopethat a lottery grant will be awarded to them.
At the same time, in recent years, significant costs have been imposed on village hall committees. There have been enhanced and additional health and safety regulations and developments in the disability access situation. Licensing has been mentioned, and the standards required for playschools and nurseries have changed, including standards for toilets and so on. All those factors have produced significantly greater costs for village hall committeeseven insurance costs contribute to that huge burdenbut those committees cannot access additional funding to make their facilities compatible with today's standards.
For some reason, applications are almost inevitably refused, which causes huge concern and disappointment among a large section of the rural community, particularly in Cornwall and in my constituency. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) mentioned many of the problems with match funding in an objective 1 area that we have experienced, and match funding is becoming less and less feasible.
14 Jun 2005 : Column 208
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I assure my hon. Friend that that problem affects not only those areas that are lucky enough to have obtained objective 1 status, but other areas. Voluntary groups in rural areas are increasingly defeated by the amount of paperwork, by the cost of providing the required information and by match funding fatigue, which stops people finding the funds to enable bids to go ahead.
Mr. Breed: My hon. Friend is right. I suspect that not only objective 1 areas but all rural areas and some other areas find it difficult to secure additional funding. Community centres and village halls can probably lay claim to meeting most funding objectives, because health services and education for the elderly and the young are provided in them. They also provide a base for all sorts of community projects and are sometimes used as sports changing rooms for nearby playing fields. Those much-needed facilities seem to hit all the right buttons, but whether the application is from the village hall committee, the Scouts, the Guides or a group for elderly people, funding cannot be obtained.
Facilities are becoming older, and those that need to be replaced are 60, 70, 80 or even 100 years old and are no longer capable of hosting vital community projects. Some playgroups and nurseries will have to close because Ofsted says that the facilities are not up to standard and because the village hall committees do not have access to the necessary capital.
I hope that the Big Lottery Fund will specifically consider umbrella funding for village halls, because it is unnecessary for every single village hall committee to go through a plethora of applications, and a simplified approach would allow two, three, four, five or even 10 village halls and community centres to join together in one application for funds for improvement, refurbishment or even replacement. A combined approach would allow small areas to improve facilities for all who use them. I urge the Minister to recognise that people who buy lottery tickets will become disillusioned if they experience too many setbacks on applications for reasonable projects which are in no way esoteric or difficult to understand, but which are vital to the life of communities and villages.
I welcome the new Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), to the Dispatch Box. We were initially confused about which Minister has responsibility for which part of the Department. At one point I thought that I would face the Minister whom I am meant to shadow, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), but he is not here tonight.
I hope that the Prime Minister will reconsider having two Under-Secretaries at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and promote them to Ministers, because the subjects addressed by the DCMS need that
14 Jun 2005 : Column 209
recognition. In an odd article in the Museums Journal, a DCMS spokeswoman stated that the decision to make the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde an Under-Secretary
The arts, sports, heritage and charities need their champions in Government as much now as has ever been the case, which means Ministers capable of independent thought who will bat for them, regardless of age or experience. I am certain that the Minister will not disappoint, but I wish that I could say the same about the Bill.
I do not believe in the synthetic rage or righteous indignation that is often generated on these occasions, but I must confess to feeling genuine anger not only about this Bill, but about the Government's handling of it. I have read it a number of times and tried to put myself in the Minister's position to ascertain what he is trying to achieve, but the Bill is so far away from the original intention of the national lottery, and so opposite to what my party would do in power, that I cannot find any common ground.
Through their refusal to listen to constructive criticism, the Government have managed to unite the Opposition, the Liberal Democrat party and a good number of free thinkers on the Government Back Benches and in the wider community. In a spirit of constructive criticism and co-operation, I have a proposal for the Minister: abandon the Bill and we will all work together to ensure that a better Bill, which reflects the founding ideals of the national lottery and which genuinely gives the lottery back to the people, is presented to Parliament in the fullness of time. The Minister would be able to show that he has listened and that he is capable of independent thought, which will certainly make his name in the world of sport, the arts and charities.
However, that will not happen, because since 1997 the Government have been embarked on a course that gives more and more control to Ministers over what lottery funding goes where. Interestingly, the former Secretary of State, who is now headed for the upper House, in answer to a question from the then Member for Surrey Heath about the principle of additionality during the Second Reading of the National Lottery Act 1998, said:
"I should have run a sweepstake on when that question would first arise in the debate because, of course, it is the common and rather tired theme of Conservative Members."[Official Report, 7 April 1998; Vol. 310, c. 162.]