National Lottery Bill


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Mr. Swire: It is not for me to chair proceedings, but I must say that I am enjoying what is almost a stand part debate on the clause. May I return the Minister to the central philosophical point behind the amendment, which he has so far failed to address clearly; the principle of prescription? He will see that amendment No. 25 deletes subsection (3) What is wrong with the original provision of the National Lottery etc. Act 1993? It clearly mentions the Secretary of State considering whether allocations were ''appropriate''. We could live with that, but not these appalling, draconian powers of prescription.

Mr. Caborn: We are bringing three lottery funding streams together; the New Opportunities Fund, the Community Fund and the Millennium Commission. The Bill proposes how we are to achieve what was outlined in the Government's wide consultation. The Big Lottery Fund then held a further consultation. We believe that the provisions in the Bill are in concert with what the British people wanted in that wider consultation.

Mr. Swire: In answer to a question that I put to the Secretary of State only a few days ago about the balances of the Millennium Commission, I was told that the commission's current balance, held under the national lottery distribution fund, is £83 million, of which £67 million has been committed to existing grant programmes. For the sake of £12 million or £13 million, it is quite extraordinary to pray in aid the merging of the Millennium Commission, NOF and the Community Fund. I do not think that the merging of three organisations, one of which has only about £13 million left, is sufficient argument for changing the whole philosophy from one in which the Secretary of State makes suggested allocations to one involving these appalling prescriptive powers.

Mr. Caborn: If what the hon. Gentleman said were absolutely true, in terms of the balances that were left, that might be a sufficient argument. The hon. Gentleman may have been correct about the cash balances left, but there are also the receipts that we will get from the sale of the dome—

Mr. Swire: Ah, the dome.

Mr. Caborn: Does the hon. Gentleman want to listen? I said that the answer to his question is probably down to the cash reserves at a given time. There could well be under-spending on a number of the Millennium Commission's projects; even at the committee meeting last week, we heard that that was the case. Three or four of the projects deposited money back because they could not deliver in the time scale.
 
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There is also the sale of the dome, receipts from which will go to the Big Lottery Fund. There is a whole series of revenue streams coming from the Millennium Commission, and that is why the Bill is framed in such a way. It also brought it together with NOF and the Community Fund. So although the answer that the hon. Gentleman mentions may be factually correct, that will not be the only stream from the Millennium Commission to the Big Lottery Fund.

Mr. Swire: I hope that the Minister is right, and that the answer is factually correct, because the answer is from the Minister himself. To read what it says:

    ''The Millennium Commission's current balance held in the National Lottery Distribution Fund is £83 million, of which £67 million has been committed to existing grant programmes and for operating costs. The Millennium Commission remains in operation, and Commissioners retain discretion to offer further grants where they believe this to be appropriate.

    Under the provisions of the National Lottery Bill, the Big Lottery Fund as successor body would take on any remaining balance and funding commitments.''—[Official Report, 21 October 2005; Vol. 437, c. 1244W.]

If the Millennium Commission remains in operation and the commissioners retain the discretion to offer further grants where they believe them to be appropriate, and the only amount of money available is the difference between £83 million and £67 million, there will not be much of a balance left. By all means, let us talk about the merging of the other two bodies, but the Minister should not pray in aid the Millennium Commission as a third pillar that needs bringing under control when there is effectively nothing left in it.

Mr. Caborn: The merging of the three lottery funds, the Community Fund, NOF and the Millennium Commission, is in the Bill. Yes, the Millennium Commission will stop operating. It was expected that the Bill would go through—and therefore that the Millennium Commission would cease to operate—probably by early next year. That is not the case. Instead of being wound up in March, it will probably continue until September or October. We are being practical about that. It has to operate, which is why those answers were given in that letter. That does not explain why there could be underspends on some of the major schemes undertaken by the Millennium Commission. It could be that the receipts we will get from the dome—not now, but two or three years down the road—will go into that process.

We will tidy the whole of that process up as well as bringing NOF and the Community Fund together. That is the object of the exercise and it has been accepted out there in the real world through the consultation we have carried out. We are going slightly wide of the amendment but we try, as we have done in the explanatory notes, to be as open with the Committee as possible to ensure that we have a full, informed debate.

Mr. Turner: I am particularly grateful to the Minister for putting on record some figures that I had heard from the Big Lottery Fund, but had not brought with me. When I heard those figures, I told the fund that in my constituency, whose population is 130,000, there was a consultation on the local strategic plan called Island Futures, to which 440 people
 
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responded. That is a response rate of one third of one per cent., which I said at the time was pretty pathetic.

We are talking about a country with a population of 50 million, out of which 800 people have responded, most of whom are representatives of voluntary organisations, not ordinary members of the public. A quarter of them are representatives of local authorities, who are certainly not ordinary members of the public. Is the Minister convinced that the consultation really got down to the level of the people to whom the hon. Member for Glasgow, South referred when he described the dissatisfaction at the way in which lottery money was being spent?

Mr. Caborn: Yes. It is simple. The British people are voting with their feet; sales of the lottery have gone up 2 or 3 per cent. during the recent past. If there were anything fundamentally wrong with the lottery and the British people did not like what was happening, they would not play it. Members should go back and look at the campaign run by the Daily Mail. If someone wants to affect the lottery, they get questions asked in the House of Commons that are followed up by the Daily Mail, which attacked asylum seekers, and then lottery ticket sales go down.

I submit to the Committee that ours is one of the most successful lotteries in the world. It has integrity and commands support from all parties and the wider community. That is why people play the lottery. It is a fact that sales of the lottery have started to go up. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South said, we see declines pretty well immediately after all lotteries start, and they need to be refreshed. The sustainability of our lottery is probably second to none. It has kept its appeal to the people who play it, which is a credit to those who run the lottery, the distributors, Camelot and everyone who has supported it.

When the lottery was attacked in that unscrupulous way, sales went down and the British public started to have some questions about it. That is why debates like this are very important to the integrity of the lottery. That is why the consultation that took place. I do not believe the consultation to be as narrow as the hon. Gentleman indicates because the organisations that responded to it represent thousands, if not millions, of people throughout the country. The broad thrust of that consultation, at Government level and that of the Big Lottery Fund, was that the themes are broadly right. The secondary consultation underlined that. To reflect that, we introduced the Bill, with secondary legislation that will be voted on by Parliament.

We believe in such accountability, a further example of which is that the Secretary of State is giving evidence to a Select Committee at the moment, part of which concerns lottery expenditure. That is a good way of scrutinising matters and putting them in the public domain, which is what we are trying to achieve. If Members consider the history of the lottery, it has gone from capital, to revenue, to a better division of expenditure, to bringing in small grants and making it user-friendly. In concert with that consultation, we believe in continuing to evolve the
 
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lottery so that it will have the confidence of the British people.

11.30 am

Mr. Swire: I entirely share the Minister's sentiments about the continuing popularity of the lottery being a remarkable achievement, not least because I believe that the Government's tax take makes it the most overtaxed lottery in the world. However, call me a cynic, but I disagree with him about the reasons why people play the lottery. I do not believe that the majority of people go into their corner shop on a Wednesday or a Saturday with altruistic thoughts of helping out some fund or other; I think that they play the lottery because they want to win £6 million. That is certainly why I play it. [Interruption.] Well, yes, I am mercenary. When I am on a ministerial salary, in the next year or two, I will be able to take a more elevated view of such matters. Unfortunately, that moment has been delayed by the electorate, who were consulted in their numbers on which Government they wanted—although that was not the case with the Bill and the division of funds.

The Minister cannot have it both ways. Even his own Back Benchers do not agree with him. The hon. Member for Glasgow, South drew attention the adverse effect on lottery sales and the lottery's reputation of the stories that the Daily Mail reported. That is why I suggested that we include a reputational impact clause, which would deal with that. However, to return to the core of the argument, the stories about fattening guinea pigs—or whatever else it may have been—are no reason to give draconian prescriptive powers to the Secretary of State. That just does not add up and neither does the Minister praying in aid the rather spurious consultations he has carried out with 800 people.

 
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Prepared 25 October 2005