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Lottery Funds Distribution

2. Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the Committee of Public Accounts report on the distribution of lottery funds by awarding bodies. [20215]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): We will respond to the PAC's report before 15 December. We agree broadly with its conclusion that lottery money must get to the communities as quickly as possible, and that we need to do more to ensure that distributors do more to get the balances down. I would also like to place it on record that we have reduced lottery balances by a third since 1999.

Mr. Illsley: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his reply. It is essential that the Government follow that route. Will he give me a reassurance that the Department will redouble its efforts to ensure that the balances are used, particularly in constituencies such as his and mine, which have traditionally received less lottery funding than other parts of the country?

Mr. Caborn: Much as I would like to say yes to the last part of my hon. Friend's question—we accept that Barnsley and Sheffield are the centre of the universe— I cannot guarantee that lottery money will be there. Seriously, however, we are determined to get the balances down, and I hope that we will get support on the National Lottery Bill, whose Committee starts sitting tomorrow. The Bill contains measures that will help the lottery distributors to get the balances down to between £1.5 billion and £1.7 billion, which we think would be reasonable. I hope that those measures will help us to achieve that objective.

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Is it not prudent for the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has recently granted £3 million to the Droitwich canals, to keep its money in the bank until it is ready to be spent, when we see the amount of money that the Government commit to the original purpose of the lottery reduced year on year, as they shift funding to other causes? Would it not be prudent to keep that money in the bank, as we are so fearful of what the Government might do to that funding stream in future?

Mr. Caborn: No. If the hon. Gentleman reads the PAC report, which we agree with, he will find the answers to his questions. It would be wrong to say that the Heritage Lottery Fund, the distributor, does not have to look again at these issues. Some of the measures that we hope to take in the National Lottery Bill, whose Committee starts tomorrow, will bring some discipline into these matters.

In regard to changing the lottery, it is an evolving scene. We have moved from capital spending to more revenue spending, but that was after wide consultation
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with the general public. That is the way in which they wanted it to evolve. The hon. Gentleman is wrong on both counts.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Heritage Lottery Fund is to continue, contrary to rumours that have been circulating? I should like to declare an interest, in that I am the president of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway Preservation Society, which has benefited from lottery funding in the past.

Mr. Caborn: I honestly do not know where these rumours come from. We take these matters seriously, so far as the Heritage Lottery Fund is concerned, and we have guaranteed it up to the end of this licence. We have also said that serious consideration must be given to enabling the good causes programme to continue after the beginning of the new licence. If we are talking about a commitment to ensuring stability of spending on good causes in the medium to long term, then, crikey, I do not think that any Government could have done more than we have. It is despicable of people to try to undermine the Heritage Lottery Fund by spreading these rumours, and they ought to stop immediately.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Rather than leaving the money in the bank, would it not be better to use it to finance an organisation called the Severn Area Rescue Association, whose application for just £5,000 for a new Land Rover to launch its lifeboats was turned down because it could not provide details of the social background of the people it rescued? I am sure that the Minister would not want its members to try to assess the wealth of the people they were dragging out of the river. Does he agree that a better way forward would be for the lottery people to review their criteria?

Mr. Caborn: I would not disagree with that. This is one of the reasons why we are bringing the Bill before Parliament again, and as I said earlier, we are moving with the times and trying to evolve what is probably the most successful lottery in the world. We have put these matters out to wide consultation to assess how the general public and the lottery players want the money to be spent. I have no doubt that the Big Lottery Fund will respond to some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, but I cannot comment on the specific case that he raised. If he wants to write to me, however, I will take the matter up with Stephen Dunmore of the Big Lottery Fund, and I will write to him with the response.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): In my right hon. Friend's response to the report, will he consider carefully what more can be done to assist small organisations in making grant applications, and particularly to direct money to smaller organisations in our more deprived communities? Will he also encourage a more rounded view to be taken of the receipts from each constituency? The receipts from Warrington town centre are not allocated to my constituency at all, even though it is the shopping area for Warrington, North.
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Mr. Caborn: My hon. Friend probably knows that several reviews have taken place, and we have tried, wherever possible, to factor in some of the concerns that she has just expressed. Broadly speaking, I hope, we are getting that right. The distribution in terms of geography and the indices of deprivation is now factored in—we have gone from capital to revenue spending, and have made it much easier, and will continue to do so through the Big Lottery Fund, for small organisations not only to apply but to get awards. We are trying to simplify and make such applications much more user-friendly, which is the whole object of the exercise.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): The Minister's complacency is wondrous to behold, but the fact is that organisations such as the New Opportunities Fund, a lottery distributor under direct Government control, missed the Government's target to reduce its balances by a massive £376 million. He can add that failure to the Government's lengthening list of missed targets. Is not the real lesson of all this simple: Government interference in the lottery simply does not work? Should not the Minister therefore interfere less in the lottery, not more, as the Bill proposes? Will he drop the draconian power in the Bill that effectively allows the Government to nick lottery balances and give them to anybody the Secretary of State chooses?

Mr. Caborn: I have no doubt that we will have that debate in Committee in the coming weeks, and it will be very interesting. I will give reasons in Committee, rather than at the Dispatch Box, and the House will be able to debate those further at a later date. Through the Bill, we are taking no more powers than existed under NOF or the Community Fund, and we will debate those in Committee. In terms of the balances, we have been reasonably successful, although there is no doubt that we can do better. We have brought them down by a third, from £3.73 billion to £2.3 billion, which is not good enough—we want to get to around £1.8 billion to £1.9 billion, which is at least sustainable. We will continue those efforts, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support the Government's Bill in Committee in the next few weeks. That will help us to get those balances down to the figure that I have indicated, which we think is reasonable.

Media Literacy

3. Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): What assessment her Department has made of levels of media literacy. [20216]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): The Government have placed a statutory duty on Ofcom to promote media literacy. As part of that duty, Ofcom has recently undertaken a large-scale audit of media literacy skills, knowledge and understanding in the UK. Ofcom is currently analysing the data that it has gathered and will publish that early next year.

Danny Alexander : I welcome the Department's efforts to promote media literacy, not least because it is vital to empowering people and enabling them to participate
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effectively in democratic processes, but will the Minister undertake to find a way of measuring it? That would enable progress also to be measured, and resources to be targeted appropriately.

Mr. Lammy: I know that the hon. Gentleman is keen to establish an all-party parliamentary group to consider media literacy, and that Ofcom is keen to work with him. Data that Ofcom is currently gathering will enable the Department to make progress, but I remind the hon. Gentleman also of the work of the media literacy taskforce, which involves broadcasters' ensuring that we educate our population better, and protect our children better, in a complex technical age.

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