National Lottery Bill


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Jo Swinson: Indeed. I was intrigued when the hon. Gentleman explained the rationale behind his thinking on the matter. However, I wonder whether the new clause is the best approach to solving the problem. After all, as has already been expressed in Committee, we know that the lottery’s reputation does not necessarily reflect the reality of the lottery funding that is allocated. There are already gross public misconceptions about where lottery money goes. The ICM poll, commissioned last year by the National
 
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Council for Voluntary Organisations, says that the public believe that the same amount of lottery money is going, for example, to help asylum seekers as to support disabled people. In fact, the amount going to disabled people is actually ten times as much as that going to asylum seekers.

There are misconceptions out there, which, in many cases, harm the reputation of the lottery. Several high-profile cases—the guinea pigs have now been mentioned for the fourth time in this debate—may have had an impact on the reputation of the lottery. However, I am not yet convinced that the solution is clause 2. Surely the problem is public understanding of what the lottery does, which is why it is welcome that there are now in place lots of programmes to raise public awareness of the good work that it does.

The Committee had an earlier debate in which we stated the importance of ensuring that the distinction between raising awareness of the good work that the lottery does and encouraging people to play the lottery is clear. We must ensure that the bodies, whose good work we support, are publicised, and schemes such as the blue plaque scheme all help that.

2 pm

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, South) (Lab): Does the hon. Lady agree that Conservatives on the Committee began the debate by criticising the Government for being too prescriptive and are ending the debate by complaining that they are not sufficiently prescriptive?

Jo Swinson: As my hon. Friend the Member for Bath told the Minister during the debate on the preceding clause, there has been disparity as to who is being prescriptive at various points. We address reputation by raising the profile of the lottery’s good awards and good work. Indeed, hon. Members will have received the briefing from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations on this matter. It states:

    “We accept that there have been a number of high-profile controversies about some of the projects that the Lottery has funded — whether that is groups supporting asylum seekers or prostitutes — but this, in our view, serves to strengthen the case for improving public awareness of the true destination of Lottery funding.”

I suggest that that represents a good way forward. I stress the potential negative impact of adding the proposed new clause to the Bill. Reputation can be a subjective concept; one person’s view of what improves the lottery’s reputation may be quite different from another’s. It would be a dull world if we all shared precisely the same views about which projects were most valuable. That is why I hope that the television programme that will allow the public to vote on the people’s millions is going to be a success. The public will differ on which projects should be funded according to their views. Therefore, we should be careful not to impose the restriction that everything must be decided solely on the basis of reputation. That is subjective and might lead to risks not being taken. Sometimes, risks have to be taken with projects; that is nature of some arts and culture lottery distributors.


 
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Mr. Swire: The hon. Lady is, of course, right. However, if she re-examines the clause, she will see that it seeks only to give powers to bodies to require them to have regard to maintaining the reputation of the national lottery and the distributing bodies. That does not mean that they cannot make awards to avant-garde art projects, which are subsequently criticised in the press. That will happen from time to time. The hon. Lady would agree that the bodies should be given the power to avoid that problem.

Jo Swinson: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but some funded projects are indeed criticised. I have often listened to Conservative Members criticising lottery awards on the radio; that could be said to be damaging the reputation of the lottery. That interpretation could have a negative impact on whether bodies feel that they are able to take risks in supporting projects that may not be a success, but which we would not wish to debar them from being able to support. I understand the sentiments behind the proposed new clause, and we all agree that the reputation of the lottery should be preserved, but I suspect that there might be another way forward on this matter.

Mr. Caborn: It would not be a bad idea to have the reputation of the national lottery written into every hon. Member’s terms of reference. That might curtail some of the more extreme and sometimes misleading statements that have been made about the lottery. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire made a very good case as to why we should not support proposed new clause 2. I wish to be clear about inappropriate grants; the distributors can simply decide not to make a grant, and that is wholly for them to decide. They have the powers to do that, and that is not affected in any way, nor would it be affected by the proposed new clause.

The purpose of proposed new clause 2 is to require lottery distributors to have regard to their own reputation and that of the national lottery when making grants. None of us wishes to see the reputation of the national lottery or distributors adversely affected. We all agree that it is important that the national lottery’s reputation be maintained. Lottery distributors will want to ensure that their reputations are maintained, too.

It is because we want to maintain the national lottery’s reputation that we are making considerable efforts, not least through provisions in the Bill, to enable the public to know more about what lottery good causes are achieving. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) indicated that, through people’s millions, we shall engage people in ways in which we have probably not done before. We hope that that will give the lottery credibility.

The proposed new clause is an attempt to prevent lottery distributors giving grants that the media might deem controversial. What could be considered controversial?I suspect that the hon. Member for East Devon is thinking of a grant that the former Community Fund made a few years ago, to which the hon. Lady also referred. It is important to remember
 
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that, since 1995, only around 1.6 per cent. of the money that has been awarded to the Big Lottery Fund and its predecessors—the Community Fund and the New Opportunities Fund—has gone to projects to help asylum seekers and/or refugees.

Ambulance services, mountain rescue groups, and rescue groups for missing and injured people have been awarded £1.8 million of lottery money. The Big Lottery Fund has given grants of £4.1 million to the Samaritans in the UK. The hon. Lady gave figures for the amount of money that has gone to disabled people that were a factor of 10 greater than that that has gone to asylum seekers. If one had believed the perceptions of the press from stories that they had printed, lottery distributors would not have given that type of indication and definition. The media totally distorted the figures.

Mr. Walker: Does the Minister have any words of encouragement for the Bowland Pennine mountain rescue team in Lancashire, which was denied £200,000 funding because its client group was not deemed to be diverse enough? I am not sure what that means, but I have an idea.

Mr. Caborn: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I do not get involved with the distribution of funds in individual cases. However, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me, I shall draw the matter to the attention of the appropriate body.

Mr. Walker: Does the Minister not agree that statements from the national lottery, such as “Your client group is not diverse enough”, could also damage its reputation? It is not only the awards that it gives that may damage its reputation but the awards that it does not give, and the reasons that are given for not making those awards.

Mr. Caborn: A note has been passed to me that is interesting. I hope that the Bill will ensure that people can apply to the right fund to deal with their case. The Bowland Pennine mountain rescue team’s application for lottery funding in 2002 was unsuccessful because mountain rescue did not meet the criteria of the particular funding programme to which it applied; the Community Fund’s large grants.

That programme’s aim was to address deep-seated, long-term problems that caused poverty, joblessness and low quality of life. I hope that what we discussed in earlier sittings will rectify the problems that groups such as the Bowland Pennine mountain rescue team have experienced by being directed to apply to a fund that dealt with poverty, joblessness and low quality of life. The Bowland Pennine mountain rescue team will now be directed to the appropriate part of the lottery fund.

That illustrates the frustration that the hon. Gentleman and I feel when applicants approach us after they have been refused funding because they have not gone to the right part of the lottery to have their application considered.


 
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Mr. Walker: Perhaps the mistake came about because someone who is lying on a mountain with a broken leg does have a low quality of life. That might be where the mistake was made.

Mr. Caborn: That is one explanation. I could tell the hon. Gentleman that I once did a bit of climbing and mountaineering. I have some good stories, but I shall not be drawn on them.

Some media interests that support other good causes might find grants made to ambulance services, rescue groups and the Samaritans, as well as other community and charity projects, to be controversial. They might consider them to affect the lottery’s reputation. It will be impossible to decide, and that is why the people appointed to the distributing bodies have been given sufficient direction from Parliament to ensure that they maintain the lottery’s integrity.

The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire indicated that we live in a pluralist society, and the range and nature of projects funded by the lottery should reflect the condition of our society. We need to respond to people’s priorities, but we do not want to sink to the bottom and go to the lowest common denominator. We always need to drive for the highest common factor. The lottery must be inclusive while keeping the confidence of lottery players elsewhere. We do not believe that the proposed new clause would achieve that; it would merely create legal uncertainty and prevent good projects being funded. For that reason, I ask that the proposed new clause be withdrawn.

Mr. Swire: The Minister—in his words, not mine—said that distributors can simply decide not to make a grant. Of course they can decide not to make the grants, but they must give reasons for not doing so. The problem is that because of the politically correct world that we now inhabit, at times they have found themselves having to make those grants rather than fighting their case, because they have no reputation or impact clause on which to fall back. The Minister has not quite grasped the point.

The Minister was quick to say what the Government were doing to get more publicity for the lottery so that more people are aware of what the lottery does. I suppose that that is manifestly a good thing. However, it still does not address the problem of giving distributors the ability to fall back on a reputational impact clause. I know that some of them would like to have such a clause, and it would have avoided some of the grants that have undermined the lottery.


 
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We live in a plural society, and there is no absolute failsafe method of preventing adverse comments made by the press about grants that a particular paper with a particular agenda might consider inappropriate. That will always happen. However, that does not mean that we should not try to stop that by including the provisions of the proposed new clause in the Bill. If that was our argument for legislation, we would not have much legislation on anything.

I was disappointed in the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire who spoke on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, because I hold her in high regard. She made a motherhood and apple pie Liberal Democrat speech, saying “on the one hand” and “on the other hand”. Although the hon. Lady did not agree with me, she did not say what she thought could replace the provisions. This may be one of those occasions when we end the Committee divided, with the Opposition seeking to vote against the Government but without the support of the Liberal Democrats, who have been such supporters of ours during most of the Committee’s deliberations.

I am not satisfied that the proposed new clause should not be included in the Bill; in fact, I am convinced that it should be included. The hon. Member for Glasgow, South is also keen for it to be included in the Bill; his criticism seems to be that we are being contradictory by prescribing. It is not really a prescription: a reputational impact clause is empowering the distributors to take decisions based on their own judgment rather than being forced to do so for reasons of political correctness or other agendas. It is therefore with some delight and anticipation, Mr. Gale, that I seek to attract your eye in order to press this final amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 11.

[Division No. 14]

AYES

Swire, Mr. Hugo
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Walker, Mr. Charles

NOES

Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Caborn, Mr. Richard
Devine, Mr. Jim
Engel, Mrs. Natascha
Foster, Mr. Don (Bath)
Harris, Mr. Tom
Mann, John
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Swinson, Jo
Thornberry, Emily
Ward, Claire

Question accordingly negatived.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at fifteen minutes past Two o’clock.

 
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