National Lottery Bill


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Jo Swinson: My hon. Friend the Member for Bath and I support the amendment and the general vein of the discussion so far about the importance of preserving the independence of the lottery distributors and the importance of the voluntary and community sector. I am sure that we have all seen lottery distributors' lists of the voluntary and community sector bodies in our own constituencies that have benefited from national lottery funding, and that we all rejoice when that happens and when we see the impact of such funding in our area. It is only sensible, as those bodies are to be the beneficiaries of such funding, that they have a say in how it is distributed and that the organisations that represent them have a right to be consulted. Given the comments of the hon. Member for East Devon about the shortcomings of previous consultations, enshrining consultation in the law is important, and various amendments deal with that.

Amendment No. 27 is the key to this group, which basically asks again for the commitment that has already been made that 60 to 70 per cent. of the funding will go to the voluntary and community sector. The Big Lottery Fund has already given that commitment, and the Minister gave it on Second Reading when he stated:

    ''I give a guarantee that between 60 and 70 per cent. of the Big Lottery Fund's income will go to communities or charities.''—[Official Report, 14 June 2005; Vol. 435, c. 175.]

Mr. Harris: On a slightly technical point, the figure quoted by my hon. Friend the Minister of between 60 and 70 per cent. is substantially different from 70 per cent. or more. Presumably, 60 to 70 per cent. means that 70 per cent. is the top level. The amendment specifically says that 70 per cent. would be the starting level. Those are two different things. The amendment does not replicate the commitment given by my hon. Friend.

Jo Swinson: Clearly, there is a difference between 60 and 70 per cent. A minimum of 70 per cent. would be a difference of 10 per cent.

Mr. Swire: Perhaps the hon. Lady is searching for the words in the amendment. It states:

    ''Not less than 70 per cent.'',

which does not suggest more than 70 per cent., but says what it says.

Jo Swinson: Indeed. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. We seek assurance from the Minister and, if he cannot give it, a good and sound reason as to
 
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why the figure cannot be enshrined in the legislation. After all, he assured us on Second Reading that the voluntary and community sector would not lose out. He stated that

    ''some have said that a Big Lottery Fund could lead to voluntary and community sector organisations losing out. I can give a categorical assurance that that will not happen.''—[Official Report, 14 June 2005; Vol. 435, c. 170.]

How can such an assurance be given? The Big Lottery Fund has said that it would commit to 60 to 70 per cent. of the funding going to the voluntary and community sector—that is its current position. However, the board may change and take a different view after 2009. Indeed, the Minister may change, and he or she could take a different view. That is why the assurances being given now must be enshrined in law. We seek an assurance that the proportion of lottery funds going to the voluntary and community sector, not just the absolute amount of money, will not decrease.

To pick up on the point about whether this group of amendments contradicts the earlier group, I believe that these amendments are entirely consistent with the argument for greater independence of lottery distributors. The Big Lottery Fund has agreed on a definition to be used in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland for the voluntary and community sector. The definition states that the sector consists of organisations whose defining features are

    ''independence from the state, a motivation derived from values and social purposes rather than the pursuit of profit, and the re-investment of surpluses principally in pursuit of these values rather than for private distribution.''

The definition for Wales, which has been agreed with the National Assembly, is slightly different.

The key words are ''independence from the state''. The definition also preserves the independence of lottery distributors, which should be enshrined in the Bill. As the Minister suggested that the changes that he is making are not intended to undermine us, I hope that he will be able to give us the assurances that we require.

Mr. Turner: I am disappointed that Labour Members are criticising the amendment when, if they had taken these proceedings and the Minister's undertakings seriously, they could have proposed an amendment to the amendment to align it exactly with what the Minister said. I can only assume they did not do that because they did not support the intention of the amendment or what the Minister said.

I find it extraordinary that what the Minister is actually saying is that at least 30 per cent.—and perhaps nearly 40 per cent.—of Big Lottery Fund Income will not go to communities or charities. That is the meaning of the words that appear in column 175 of the Second Reading debate; the Minister guaranteed that

    ''between 60 and 70 per cent. of the''

Big Lottery Fund's income

    ''will go to communities or charities.''—[Official Report, 14 June 2005; Vol. 435, c. 175.]

That is a huge amount of money which the Minister proposes should go neither to communities nor to
 
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charities. I hope that the Minister will accept, if not the figure of 70 per cent., then at least the intention of the amendment, which is that the commitment he has made should be stated in the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon said, Ministers come and go, and Big Lottery Fund boards come and go, and Chancellors get itchy fingers and their powers of taxation diminish as the economy goes downhill and they always want a bit more. I suspect that unless this commitment is included in the Bill, when the Minister reaches the red-and-white striped tent along the Terrace—

Mr. Caborn: They are Sheffield United's colours.

Mr. Turner: Well, that is the Minister's problem. When he reaches that tent, I suspect that he will regret not having included this in the Bill, because he will have seen his commitment undermined by the actions of his successors.

Mr. Caborn: Mr. Cook, the only red-and-white terrace I shall be on is at the Sheffield United ground at Bramall lane; we are top of the Championship at the moment, 23 points ahead of Sheffield Wednesday—but that is totally irrelevant to our proceedings.

One of the allegations that has been made is that we and the voluntary sector do not consult. I am a little concerned about that because, as we have demonstrated in this Committee and in the Committee that considered the London Olympics Bill, my officials and I have been incredibly open. We have tried to be as helpful as possible in explaining what we are doing and why we are doing those things. We have given all the information available to us to the Committee, and to the voluntary sector.

Indeed, we value that compact; I say that genuinely. I have met with the voluntary sector on a number of occasions, as have my officials. The NCVO has told us more than once that it thinks we could do better by meeting all its requirements in full. It is obvious that it should hold that opinion; everybody comes along with a shopping list, and if we do not accept everything on it, they think that is wrong. I understand that. However, we have shared all the information with the voluntary sector, and in particular the emerging plans as they have been prepared, in order to make sure that we were interfacing.

Voluntary sector organisations might not agree with everything that we have said or that is in the Bill; far from it, and it would be stupid to think we could achieve that. However, the one thing I can say with certainty is that we have gone to great lengths to consult. In fact, at the last meeting I was at, people said they had consultation fatigue, because more of their time was being absorbed responding to our consultations than delivering services to the clientele of their charity. Consultation has taken up huge amounts of time. We have to strike a balance.

I value the compact that we have. We must strike a balance so that we make sure both that we consult on matters and that we consult at the right time, so that others' views can be factored in to Government policy. That has happened, and it will continue to happen.
 
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Mr. Swire: The Minister is right to defend his civil servants and his Department. That is one of his jobs as a Minister. What is his reaction to the quote that I came up with from the NCVO, which clearly conflicts with what he has just said? It referred to

    ''A series of failures over an 18 month period by the DCMS to consult with the voluntary sector in a meaningful or clear way in regards to the proposed merger of the Community Fund and NOF.''

Mr. Caborn: I want the allegation to be specific. I put it on the record—on behalf of my officials, too—that we shared the information, first on the options set out in our emerging plans. When we had prepared the plans, there was further consultation, after which we had subsequent consultations. I am not saying that we accepted all its shopping list. That is different, but I want the NCVO to put on the record when I, my officials or former Ministers in my Department were not available for consultations.

The hon. Gentleman might look to the back of the Room, but I want the NCVO to put such details on the record, and against that I shall put the record of our consultations, our telephone calls and our sharing of our emerging ideas and plans. If the hon. Gentleman gives me the NCVO's shopping list on consultation, I shall match it and tell him exactly what we did and explain offers that we made—not only to one organisation but to all the organisations.

 
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Prepared 25 October 2005