National Lottery Bill


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Mr. Caborn: I shall respond to the debate factually, without rhetoric. If the hon. Gentleman had given way about 10 minutes ago, he would have learned that it was not Sir Clive who had the meeting, but the chief executive, Stephen Dunmore, as I said at the time and as Hansard will show. Stephen Dunmore is the chief executive of an NDPB—the accounting officer, not a chairman. There are clear guidelines for the chief executives and accounting officers of an NDPB. The hon. Gentleman will find in schedule 2 and in section 34 of the 1993 Act that such people are, as accounting officers, accountable to Parliament through their annual reports. That was how Parliament decided they would have some accountability when the NDPBs were set up. That, I suggest, is taken into account when an accounting officer of Stephen Dunmore’s standing gives assurances at a meeting.

We have been accused of failing to consult the voluntary sector, but the meeting at which these questions were raised was part of the consultation. It was held in my office, as I am the Minister responsible, and was attended by representatives of the voluntary sector, Stephen Dunmore and my officials. Stephen Dunmore took on board, very positively, the questions asked by the voluntary sector. He did not then go out
 
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and consult the rest of the world; he decided that with his powers and accountability to Parliament, one way forward would be to produce a report with a number of features for the voluntary sector and both Houses of Parliament. It would also be reproduced in a way that was user-friendly. I do not think that any accounting officer or chief executive from an NDPB could be more user-friendly.

Let me say before there is any criticism that it was not the chairman but the chief executive who was involved. What I am proposing will be part of the mechanisms through which the House holds to account the Secretary of State, whoever he or she may be, and the accounting officers.

The hon. Member for Bath said that the Big Lottery Fund was in operation; I can inform him that it is operating in name only. The legal entities of the Community Fund and the NOF are now working jointly. The Bill creates distinct legal bodies and if it is passed, which I hope it is, the Big Lottery Fund will become a statutory body in its own right and an NDPB.

Mr. Foster: I intervene for a bit of light relief and to give the Minister time to flick through the next part of his notes. I fully understand that the Big Lottery Fund is not currently a corporate body. Since he says that the other bodies are operating as independent, separate bodies, will he tell the Committee whether, to the best of his knowledge, it would be possible to find a piece of headed notepaper with New Opportunities Fund or Community Fund on its letterhead?

Mr. Caborn: I did not say that. I will repeat what I said just for the record: they are distinct legal bodies—administrative bodies. The additional functions that hon. Members asked for, the centre of excellence and so on, are dealt with in clause 14, in new section 36D of the 1993 Act, which we will come to in a few minutes.

Clause 13 establishes the Big Lottery Fund as a corporate body and inserts a new schedule 4A, which is in schedule 2 of the Bill—

Mr. Foster: I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but it may help to clarify later deliberations. He will be aware that in the national lottery funding decision document of July 2003, specific reference is made to the new body’s responsibilities from page 20 onwards. Those responsibilities include leading on best practice, providing a single point of entry for new applicants unsure of where to seek advice, being the first port of call for applicants who feel that their project does not fit neatly with other distributors’ terms of reference, and developing pre-application support and common standards of service. Is the Minister saying that new section 36D covers all those points?

Mr. Caborn: Yes. It states:

    “The Big Lottery Fund may give advice about”

and gives a list from (a) to (c). The official legal advice that I am given is that that would cover the matters that the hon. Gentleman has just raised.


 
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Schedule 2 sets out detailed provisions on the Big Lottery Fund’s constitution, proceedings and money. Much of that is standard provision for public bodies, as I have indicated, but I would like to highlight a couple of points. Paragraph 1 of the schedule, which deals with membership of the Big Lottery Fund, provides that there will be 12 members, appointed by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State may vary that number by order following consultation with the devolved Administrations. One member will be appointed as chairperson. England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will each have one member, who may be the chairperson, appointed to represent their interests, with the agreement of the relevant devolved Administration.

Paragraph 7 requires the Big Lottery Fund to establish a committee for each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to be chaired by the relevant member of the fund. The committees will be responsible for devolved expenditure in respect of their countries. The members of the committees will be appointed by the Big Lottery Fund, with the agreement of the Secretary of State in the case of the England committee and of the relevant devolved Administration in the others.

Mr. Walker: Will the Minister shed some light on how the Secretary of State will conduct the recruitment process for the 12 members?

Mr. Caborn: As we always do—in accordance with the Nolan procedures for public appointments, which are transparent. We have the public’s list, which involves many people writing in and which is held centrally. There will be no difference in respect of this measure. The situation will be the same as it is for any NDPB or any other public body. All of us are charged with following the Nolan procedures, which, I think, resulted from the last Administration’s problems.

The Bill represents a significant devolution of power to the devolved Administrations, and the creation of the country committees is a key way of achieving that. Paragraph 20 of schedule 2 allows the fund to invest money in an interest-bearing account. Most money that the fund receives will be held in the national lottery distribution fund and invested by the national debt commissioners under section 32 of the 1993 Act. However, non-lottery money received pursuant to new section 36C of the Act, which is inserted by clause 14, may be invested under this power. I beg to move that clause 13 and schedule 2 stand part of the Bill—

The Chairman: Order. We have a full and fervent debate on schedule 2 to come. I think that the Minister is being a little previous; I noticed that in his earlier remarks he was referring fairly heavily to schedule 2. I am sure that he will not repeat those remarks later.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

[Division No.
 
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6]

AYES

Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Caborn, Mr. Richard
Engel, Mrs. Natascha
Gwynne, Andrew
Harris, Mr. Tom
Mann, John
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Thornberry, Emily
Ward, Claire

NOES

Afriyie, Adam
Foster, Mr. Don (Bath)
Selous, Andrew
Swinson, Jo
Swire, Mr Hugo
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Walker, Mr. Charles

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2

New Schedule 4A to the National Lottery etc. Act 1993

The Chairman: Before we start the debate, let me say that, having studied the Bill carefully, I am acutely conscious of the fact that many of these clauses and issues overlap. I do not have a big problem with hon. Members introducing matters into the debate if they feel that that is appropriate, on the strict understanding that they do not seek to do the same thing all over again in the stand part debate on schedule 2.

Mr. Swire: I beg to move amendment No. 76, in schedule 2, page 18, leave out lines 23 and 24.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 78, in schedule 2, page 18, line 32, leave out sub-paragraph (5).

No. 75, in schedule 2, page 19, line 4, at end insert—

    ‘2A      An appointment of a member shall be for a term no longer than five years.’.

No. 80, in schedule 2, page 19, line 12, leave out ‘unfit or unwilling’ and insert ‘or unfit’.

No. 81, in schedule 2, page 19, line 13, at end insert

    ‘and that decision has been ratified by a two-thirds majority of the members excluding the member who is the subject of the investigation.’.

No. 83, in schedule 2, page 19, line 44, leave out ‘obtain the consent of’ and insert ‘consult’.

No. 86, in schedule 2, page 21, line 5, leave out from ‘committees’ to end of line 6 and insert—

    ‘14A      A quorum for a committee shall be two-thirds of the total number of members appointed.’.

No. 87, in schedule 2, page 21, line 16, leave out ‘person as Chairman or’.

5.15 pm

Mr. Swire: The amendments relate to the constitution and membership and flag up several concerns about the day-to-day operations of the Big Lottery Fund, which we have in a sense just voted into existence—or failed to vote out of existence in the previous division.


 
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We want some powers to be transferred from the Secretary of State to the Big Lottery Fund. We feel that the Big Lottery Fund does not have as much operational independence as it should. Amendments Nos. 78, 80, 81 and 83 deal with the BLF taking some powers from the Secretary of State, and the remaining amendments deal with the operational matters of the BLF.

Amendment No. 76 would result in the chairman of the BLF board not being responsible for representing the interests of a specific part of the country—Wales or Scotland, for example. There could be—I am not saying that there would be—a conflict of interest, and the chairman should not be seen to be pitching for one part of the country. A conflict of interest could result in the chairman being thought to favour one particular part of the country. At least the appearance of fairness and impartiality should be maintained, and the chairman of the BLF board should not be influenced or otherwise by one particular part of the country.

Amendment No. 78 removes the Secretary of State’s ability to expand or shrink the BLF board at whim. A Secretary of State—not the current Secretary of State, clearly, but a future Secretary of State—who felt that they were not getting co-operation from the Big Lottery Fund board would be able to pack it full of those remaining supporters who had not already been accelerated into the upper House. If there were any left by that stage, they could all be packed onto the Big Lottery Fund board until it was so big that the Secretary of State was convinced that he or she had their own placemen on it.

Mr. Walker: I may not have read the provision as closely as I should have, and I apologise, but is the intention that people be appointed to the board for fixed terms? That would—crikey—it would preclude the Secretary of State from weeding out those recalcitrant members who went against his or her view.

Mr. Swire: Crikey indeed. As the Bill is constructed, weeding out is precisely what could happen. That is why in amendment No. 75 we suggest inserting in schedule 2:

    “An appointment of a member shall be for a term of no longer than five years.”

That amendment would limit the appointment period of a BLF board member to five years—about the same duration as a term as a Member of Parliament. That should go some way to addressing my hon. Friend’s concerns.

In amendment No. 80, we propose removing from schedule 2 “unfit or unwilling”, and inserting “or unfit”. The reasons behind the amendment are quite clear. The Bill as drafted gives the Secretary of State the ability to remove an unwilling board member. “Unwilling” could mean anything—unwilling to turn up to meetings, to speak in meetings, or to come clothed to meetings; it could cover any number of ways that might cause offence. Whether it would be desirable for him or her to be clothed or unclothed would depend on who the member was, but we must not digress—or, indeed, undress. The point is that that the present wording it leaves it open to a Secretary of
 
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State to decide that somebody is unwilling because they do not toe the party line, or do the bidding of the Secretary of State. That might sound rather Stalinist, but I look forward to hearing the Minister’s justification for the provision.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): My hon. Friend did not quote the words in line 12, namely,

    “in the opinion of the Secretary of State . . . unwilling”

I ask my hon. Friend to put himself in the position of a member of the board who is not himself unwilling, but who in the Secretary of State’s opinion is unwilling. Why should the Secretary of State know better than the board member whether he is unwilling?

Mr. Swire: There are occasions when others know whether one is unwilling better than one does oneself, but I agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend. We cannot table amendments to cover every inconsistency in the Bill or everything that gives the Secretary of State unacceptable powers, which is precisely what the Bill does from A to Z. His point is well made and the question remains: what constitutes unfit or unwilling? If a member is classed as unwilling because he is lazy, surely he is unfit. However, the present definition of unwilling might mean anybody who does not always agree with the Secretary of State. I am always interested in the Minister’s responses, but I shall be particularly so in this one. We are not trying to scupper this part of the schedule, we are just trying to help with what we regard as better drafting and to remove the lingering sense that the measure is all about a concentration of power in the hands of an overmighty—probably almighty too—Secretary of State.

Amendment No. 81 provides that the Secretary of State cannot summarily remove a member of the BLF board unless that decision is ratified by a vote of the board. I hope that that amendment goes some way towards addressing the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner). We have tried to apply a lock on anybody deciding that somebody else is unwilling, and providing that any such decision should be ratified by two thirds of the membership of the BLF, excluding the person in question, is a pretty good way of achieving that. Being judged by one’s peers is always better than being judged by a member of the Executive. I hope that he would feel that that proposal was worthy of his support.

Amendment No. 83, too, gives more power to the BLF board and less to the Secretary of State. All the amendments are designed, as I said, to loosen the grip of the Secretary of State, and to give more power to the devolved board. If the amendment is made, when the Big Lottery Fund appoints committees to make decisions about devolved expenditure, it will not have to obtain the consent of each country’s lead body—in other words the Secretary of State for Scotland or Scottish Ministers—before appointing members of that committee. The amendment requests that the Big Lottery Fund board merely consults the devolved bodies. Requiring the Big Lottery Fund to obtain the agreement of the Secretary of State, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Ministers, the Northern
 
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Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, and perhaps even the Tynwald and the various legislative authorities of the Channel Islands—about which the Minister is going to write to me this evening—to appoint someone to a committee effectively demands that it obtains the agreement of politicians even regarding minor appointments. The Big Lottery Fund seems to have few powers indeed, but if it cannot appoint its own committees and deal with people whom it regards as unfit to be members of its board, it seems to be an animal without teeth. I am certain that the Minister wants that particular animal to have some teeth.

The penultimate amendment in the group, amendment No. 86, is designed to ensure that meetings of the Big Lottery Fund board are quorate. We feel that a quorum should be fixed when a committee is dealing with the distribution of large sums of money. At the moment, that is not the case, as the clause states:

    “The Fund may, subject to this Schedule, regulate its procedure and the procedure of its committees (and may, in particular, make provision for a quorum).”

We suggest that we firm up that provision. If the powers that be deem the 12 members—or however many there are meant to be, because unless our amendment is passed there will be any number—to be unwilling or unco-operative and vote them off the board, we could be left with few members making huge decisions about vast amounts of money. That is, of course, completely unacceptable to us. [Interruption.] It sounds as though it is wholly, completely and totally out of the question as far as the hon. Member for Bath is concerned. No doubt we will hear more from him in a minute.

The final amendment in the group is amendment No. 87, which deals with the proceedings of the Big Lottery Fund board in the event of a defect in the appointment of a person as chairman or member. We felt that a defect in the appointment of the chairman could and should affect the Big Lottery Fund proceedings. Not much can happen without a chairman, Mr. Gale, but the amended schedule would mean that a defect in the appointment of a member would not necessarily affect the validity of proceedings.

It is arguable that the amendments are pieces of housekeeping, but they reflect the fact that individually, but collectively the Opposition—I use the term in an all-embracing manner—are voicing their continuing concerns that the Secretary of State has too much control and that the Big Lottery Fund board has too few teeth.

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman will have to wait a little while to find out whether he has our support. My hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire will try to catch your eye, Mr. Gale.

May I, in the spirit of interest and co-operation, ask the hon. Gentleman a question of which I have given him prior notice? Will he share with the Committee his thoughts on a concern that I have already raised with him? He is right to propose that the chairman should not be someone who also represents England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland on the board. Does he
 
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share my concern that his amendment does not go far enough and that, were he to be successful in deleting paragraph 1(4)(b) of schedule 2, it would remain possible for the Secretary of State to appoint a chairman who could be such a person? Does he agree with me that it would be extraordinarily helpful if the Minister not only accepted the amendment but suggested a further amendment to ensure that what the hon. Gentleman is desperate to prevent happening does not do so?

Mr. Swire: One day pigs will fly, and when I see a pig flying down the Thames, I will know either that within a few minutes people in white coats will come to take me away and stop me being on the Big Lottery Fund board, or that the Minister is about to accept one of my amendments. I do not know which is likely to occur sooner.

5.30 pm

The hon. Gentleman did indeed notify me of his question. He makes a good point, but I still think that our drafting holds up. If he wishes to press the matter, there are two channels open to him: one is to use his own persuasive powers in a few moments to convince the Minister that this provision needs tidying up; the other is to bring the matter up on Report and Third Reading, in the dim and distant future when hopefully we will both still be alive. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given an indication that he supports the thinking behind the amendment, if not its execution.

The amendment is designed to remove doubt. Many of the amendments are designed to protect the Big Lottery Fund board, not to reduce its efficiency. We believe that if there is to be such a board it should be regulated, but that it should have genuine independence. We also believe that, like Caesar’s wife, it should be above suspicion. I submit that the board and its members—12 men and women, good and true—will not be above suspicion if they are liable to be summoned and dismissed by the Secretary of State for being unwilling; or if they are likely to go to a meeting one day only to find that the room has 45 other people with whom the Secretary of State has decided to pack the meeting; or if the chairman, via the sub-committees of the regions, were suddenly to divert 45 per cent. of the 50 per cent. of the Big Lottery funding to shore up Labour marginal seats in Scotland—no offence intended to Scotland, of course. We are trying to prevent that sort of thing happening, and there seems no better time to do so than at this stage of the Bill.

Having mentioned that wonderful part of the United Kingdom, I hope that others might now join in the debate.

Jo Swinson: I would like to put the hon. Member for East Devon out of his misery and inform him that we do support many of the amendments in this group. He was not even denied the opportunity to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Bath speak to those amendments.


 
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In relation to amendment No. 76, it is clear that a conflict of interest could be created if someone had responsibility both for standing up for the interests of one particular part of the UK and for taking an overall view of the board. Will the Minister put our minds at rest on that matter?

Amendment No. 78 is interesting. I can understand why the Government would want to ensure that the Secretary of State had the power to vary the size of the board; I can conceive of various situations in which it might be desirable to do so. However, the concerns that both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have expressed today about the overall constitution of the Big Lottery Fund show that there is concern about what that power would mean. Pleas to ensure proper consultation with the voluntary sector have fallen on deaf ears, and we do not know when a guarantee is a guarantee or when it is just an expression of support. We therefore have a right to be very concerned about the Secretary of State’s ability to decide how many or how few members to have on the board.

On amendment No. 75, it is entirely sensible to have a limit on how long a person should hold a position on the board. Such a time limit is common in many organisations to ensure that fresh ideas are proposed. The board should be dynamic, although some might say, “Fortunately, that does not happen in Parliament.”

I am not going to discuss every amendment in the group, but I have one question to ask about amendment No. 80. If the amendment were accepted, the paragraph would read:

    “The Chairman or another member may be removed from office by the Secretary of State on the grounds that . . . he is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State unable,”

or

    “unfit to discharge the functions of his office.”

I am struggling to conceive of a case in which someone would be so dreadful that we would want to remove them from the board, or that the definition of being unable or unfit to discharge the functions of his office would not be adequate to ensure that someone who clearly should not be on the board was not on it. Will the Minister put our minds at rest at give us an example of such a situation?

Mr. Turner: Before I add a few thoughts to those that have already been expressed, may I belatedly welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Gale? I shall speak only to amendments Nos. 80 and 83, although that in no way diminishes the importance of the other amendments in the group.

I referred to amendment No. 80 earlier. The Secretary of State seems to believe that she can detect the unwillingness of someone who is incapable of detecting it himself—[Interruption.] The Minister is sniggering, but presumably the prescience of the Secretary of State knows no bounds and he is aware of examples.

Mr. Walker: Surely someone would offer their resignation and move on to new pastures if they were unwilling to participate.


 
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Mr. Turner: My hon. Friend has abruptly brought to a halt my remarks on the amendment, because that was the direction in which I was drifting. I am sad to say that the shooting of foxes in Committee is still permitted under the Hunting Act 2004. None the less, I want to know the circumstances in which the Secretary of State can detect that someone is unwilling if that person has not indicated that he is unwilling. If he is not unwilling but the Secretary of State forms the opinion that he is unwilling, who is to adjudicate? Under the Bill, it is the Secretary of State, which is a curious, almost Gilbertian position.

Amendment No. 83 would remove “obtain the consent of” and insert “consult”. It is worth turning the page of the Bill, because at the top of page 20 are listed the bodies that the Big Lottery Fund must consult. In the case of the committee concerned with England, the fund must consult the Secretary of State. In the case of the committee concerned with Wales, the fund must consult the National Assembly for Wales. I recognise that the Secretary of State is the body in England that lays regulations before Parliament, and that the equivalent in Wales is the National Assembly, because in effect the Assembly has the regulation-making power in respect of devolved matters in Wales. However, the Bill goes on to say that in the case of the committee concerned with Scotland, the fund must consult the Scottish Ministers. Will the Minister clarify which Scottish Ministers he has in mind? Is he talking about all the Scottish Ministers, or about a Scottish Minister with a particular responsibility. [Interruption.] I am told that we have been through this.

 
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