National Lottery Bill


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Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Thank you, Mr. Cook. I welcome you to the Chair. I am delighted to be serving on this Committee under your chairmanship and to see so many familiar faces from the Standing Committee on the London Olympics Bill.

We broadly support this group of amendments, some of which would clear up anomalies relating to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. However, the main thrust of the controversy is covered by amendments Nos. 24 and 25. We agree that it is unacceptable for the Secretary of State to have the power to make an order prescribing expenditure to good causes, because that is just another Government attack on the independence of lottery distributors. The whole Bill goes much too far in giving that power to the Secretary of State and I am sure that the issue will be revisited during our proceedings.

I shall demonstrate the extent of that power. During proceedings on the Gambling Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Bath rightly criticised the Government for including so many opportunities to give the Secretary of State secondary powers. However, that legislation pales in comparison with the Bill that we are considering today. One in 10 clauses of the Gambling Bill gave the Secretary of State secondary powers, but eight of the 23 clauses in the Bill before us make provision for the Secretary of State to make secondary legislation. That is far too much.
 
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The hon. Member for East Devon illustrated the temptation of the Secretary of State's power to prescribe when faced with difficult budgetary decisions, whatever the Government's good intentions initially. The normal man or woman in the street who goes into their local corner shop to buy a lottery ticket knows that a proportion of the money will go to good causes and that independent bodies will decide which local organisations should receive money. The perception is not and should not be that the Secretary of State and the Government decide how to spend the money, which is why we must remove the power of prescription from the Bill. We support the amendments.

Mr. Harris: I understand the arguments made by the hon. Members for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) and for East Devon, but there is an issue of public confidence that has not been addressed. It is addressed by clause 7.

The national lottery is not as popular as it was when it was launched, although no one expected the high demand for tickets in November 1994 to be maintained. Part of the drop in support stems from bad publicity—sometimes exaggerated—that has highlighted some of the so-called good causes which the public do not believe are good causes. An obvious example is the large amount of money given to the Churchill family to release papers that by any estimation should have been the property of the country in the first place, but which the public purse, or the national lottery, had to pay for to bring into public ownership.

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There have been other cases. I remember a scheme to support failed asylum seekers, funded through the national lottery, that got a lot of criticism. In my constituency I have a number of failed asylum seekers who do not benefit from any state support. I am sure that that is so in the constituencies of many Committee Members. I do not make any judgment about whether organisations that fight for the rights of failed asylum seekers should have state money or national lottery money, but the issue is controversial. That particular scheme did not have the support of the public.

If we are to engage the public again in support of the national lottery, they must have confidence that the so-called good causes will be prescribed and set out by the Government.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): If the Government prescribe the expenditure, does not it add even more distrust? Does not the lottery become an extension of Government rather than an operation that allocates expenditure on its own basis? It would be directed directly by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but we must accept that the vast majority of the public do not make that great a distinction between the national lottery and the Government. They see the Big Lottery Fund as a creation of the Government, and when things go wrong and the fund makes bad
 
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decisions, they do not blame the fund, they blame the Government.

Mr. Swire: I am almost at the point of asking the hon. Gentleman to join us on the Opposition Benches in the Committee Room, because he makes some points that we shall make subsequently. If I may say so, however, he is confusing two things; the Secretary of State's ability to prescribe—we are debating that in this clause; the mood music coming from the Government—and the fact that 50 per cent. of lottery funds will go to areas that the Secretary of State so decides. It will not address the question of whether the money ends up supporting unpopular causes.

The hon. Gentleman is suggesting something for which we argued in the election, and to which we shall return; a reputational impact clause, which the New Opportunities Fund lacked, so that those in charge of the distribution of funds are able to say, ''Yes, this is a worthy cause, but there are problems with it and it would impact adversely on what we are doing overall.'' A reputational impact clause is needed, not a clause that gives 50 per cent. of lottery spending to the Secretary of State to decide where it will go through prescription.

Mr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman is probably right to say that I am regularly confused by proceedings in these Committees. It would not be the first time. However, I can assure him that however confused I may be, I am not so confused that I would ever cross the Floor of this House. Are not the Government democratically accountable for decisions made by the Big Lottery Fund?

Mr. Swire: Will the hon. Gentleman give an example of how the Government are democratically accountable for decisions made by the Big Lottery Fund?

Mr. Harris: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is ultimately responsible for the management and continuation of the national lottery. That has been the case since it was launched in 1994. Her predecessors in the Conservative Government were equally responsible for the maintenance and the good management of the national lottery. She is responsible for the contract that goes out every seven years, or however long it is, to run the lottery. That is democratic accountability.

Unfortunately, I have spoken for longer than I intended, but if you do not mind, Mr. Cook, I want to finish, as we have spent too long on this clause, with this point. Since the Government are accountable in the public's eye for how well the lottery is run and on what good causes the public money is spent, it is perfectly reasonable for the Government to reserve for themselves the right to prescribe 50 per cent. of the national lottery's expenditure. Therefore, I recommend that my colleagues oppose the amendment of the hon. Member for East Devon, unless my hon. Friend the Minister agrees with it and comes up with some telling responses, which I suspect he will not do.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): May I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for
 
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East Devon (Mr. Swire) and others in saying what a privilege and pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook?

I wish to deal with some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), and some others that were in my mind before he spoke. First, let me ask the question that struck me most; if the Government feel that the prescriptions are so important, why are they not in the Bill? If they feel the same way that the hon. Gentleman feels—that the Government are accountable for the way in which lottery money is spent—why are they giving the power to make decisions about the prescription to the Secretary of State rather than to Parliament? I assume that the answer to that is that the Minister is unsure whether what he has put on the paper that he has kindly circulated is right. He has some ideas, he is putting some of them forward and he may amend them at a later stage.

The explanatory notes—I believe that the tradition is for them to be prepared by the sponsoring Department, and therefore, presumably, to have the approval of the relevant Ministers—say rather more than the Minister says about the prescriptions:

    ''Possible examples are expenditure on community learning and creating opportunity, promoting community safety and cohesion, and promoting well being.''

However, those were possible examples when the explanatory notes were drafted, but we now have a rather more detailed set of proposed prescriptions. I thank the Minister for his courtesy in circulating them to Committee members. They are contained in the illustrative policy directions, which are subject to consultation.

The directions are proposed prescriptions to the distributor as to how the money should be spent, but they are, of course, subject to further consultation, and it would be right for them to be amended in light of the consultation. However, one has to ask why the Government have got to the stage of deciding that it is necessary to prescribe and to have broad definitions of prescription, but not to include them in the Bill, albeit that definitions are contained in the explanatory notes. That is presumably because they had not undertaken at an earlier stage the consultation necessary to determine what those prescriptions should be. That is why they are putting forward proposed prescriptions now, with a period of public consultation afterwards.

Adam Afriyie: By prescribing in such detail—or even suggesting prescription in such detail—are not the Government using lottery money as a form of taxation?

Mr. Turner: The Government are certainly getting their sticky fingers on the lottery money. I am not sure whether they would dare to tax for each of the purposes set down in these proposals, although I am sure that they would dare to tax.

 
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