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10 Dec 2007 : Column GC51

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate, particularly to the noble Lords, Lord Newby and Lord Shutt, who have raised very interesting issues with the amendment. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness will answer with her usual accuracy.

I was surprised, however, that neither the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, nor the noble Lord, Lord Newby, drew attention to the fact that the concept of distribution proposed by the Government in the Bill pays due regard to the rights and obligations of the national Assemblies and Parliaments of our devolved Administrations. We have been scrupulous in recognising that they have a role in defining priorities for their areas—a role that would be handed over to the Secretary of State if the noble Baroness’s alternative model of distribution were accepted.

We are seeking to develop a light-touch structure, one to which the financial organisations, the banks and the building societies, are prepared to subscribe, for the distribution of resources. I wonder how much consultation the noble Baroness has carried out with those organisations on the suggestion that the Secretary of State should have a much more significant role with regard to the allocation of priorities. She readily identifies national priorities spanning the whole of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, while the Bill pays due regard to the fact that our banks and building societies have concerns for their localities. We have provided a structure within the framework to deal with that.

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We will have many opportunities to discuss the strengths of the Government’s proposals in detail, particularly the strength of our proposal that the Big Lottery Fund should be the distribution mechanism. It is not for me to test extensively on that now, although I have indicated already that the fund has great strengths in terms of its representation in each of the four areas of the United Kingdom, and its regional and local representation—to say nothing of its great experience. But this amendment is translated from a distribution mechanism which has all those scruples and flexibilities attached to it and potentially establishes by order the Secretary of State as provider of an alternative national distribution mechanism. I hope noble Lords will recognise that it deliberately runs counter to the whole thinking behind the Bill and to one of the most important concepts—that the Government are seeking to enlist the willing co-operation support and administration of resources that are within their domain. This amendment looks like the great hammer of central government being imposed instead.

I hope that the noble Baroness will appreciate that I have the strongest reservations about the amendment and recognise that we will have plenty of time in due course to discuss the ways in which we could perfect the alternative mechanism that the Government propose.

Baroness Noakes: I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, asked about my hierarchy of ambition. My only ambition for Committee stage is to test the logical limits of the Government’s

10 Dec 2007 : Column GC52

position on the various aspects of the drafting of their scheme. One will then regroup and decide on the most important areas to take further. If the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, wants a more detailed answer, he must buy me a drink in the bar afterwards.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, was absolutely right to say that the number of causes that could benefit from this money is infinite. However, is the Big Lottery Fund the right place through which to launder the money? That is the question being posed by my amendment. In case there was any misunderstanding, when I suggested that money be provided for the Armed Forces, I did not mean that it should buy guns and uniforms for them, I meant that it should support servicemen and their families for the things that make their lives better and in ways that are not related to armed operations.

My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale asked a question on national charities, which is an important issue, because if the money goes into the Big Lottery Fund, it has to be shared between the countries. How does a national charity fit in with that scheme? That is another reason why I thought that an alternative scheme that would reflect national issues was important. The Minister then said: “Ah, but this is terrible, because the Secretary of State will be making decisions without reference to the devolved Administrations”; but the Secretary of State makes decisions as a Cabinet colleague and I believe that there are Cabinet colleagues representing Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, although they are part-time. I do not have a particular problem with that.

The Minister then said that the Government were seeking to enlist the willing support and co-operation of those whose funds were to be liberated by the Bill; but if the Minister has read the comments of the British Bankers’ Association on the amendments, he will have seen that it regards where the money goes as a matter of public policy that does not concern it. Its main concerns are the arrangements for how money is gathered in and not how it is spent. The BBA does not regard itself as having a say in that; it has left that to the Government, so this is a question that we should debate.

I will reflect further before we come back on Report. My previous amendment was on the lifeboat, which I continue to believe is a very important cause. This amendment reflects that the Bill is not robust in the face of very differing outcomes in terms of amounts collected through the scheme and does not allow some national projects to be supported, so I regard this issue as having continuing importance.

Time moves on and, for today, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bach: I beg to move that the Committee be adjourned until tomorrow afternoon at 3.30 pm.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux): The Committee stands adjourned until tomorrow at 3.30 pm.

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