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Orders of the Day — National Lottery Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:44 pm on 14th June 2005.

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Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 6:44 pm, 14th June 2005

I am glad to hear it. Well, I must say that seven years later that is still our theme. We are not tired—we have been reinvigorated by the 56 new Conservative Members who have recently joined us, some of whom spoke excellently this afternoon—but we are consistent, and we are tired of this Labour Government constantly raiding the lottery.

When people pay their taxes—they pay too much under this Government—they do so, perhaps with some reluctance, as part of an understood contract with the state. As part of that contract, they receive public services, public security and, among other things, the Minister. But when people pay for a lottery ticket, they do so to enjoy themselves in the hope perhaps of winning, but in the knowledge that even if they do not win some of their money will be going to good causes. Sir John Major, the father of the national lottery, saw its instigation as a

"way to raise additional funding—free from the grasping hand of any Government—that could be used to improve the enjoyment—and the lifestyle—of many millions of people."

In the same speech, Sir John went on to point out that the national lottery had created 1,700 millionaires—even more, I dare say, than are to be found at a Labour fundraising dinner—raising £16 billion, the equivalent of Luxembourg's entire gross domestic product, in the process since 1994. That is partly his legacy. It would be a tragedy for this Prime Minister, who must be looking towards his own legacy, if the lottery began to falter because of his Government's actions.

Let us consider what comes next if this Bill becomes law. As my hon. Friend Mrs. Dorries reminded us, the Prime Minister said in 1997:

"We don't believe it would be right to use Lottery money to pay for things which are the Government's responsibilities."

We have heard much tonight from Government Members about their definition of the additionality principle. They interpret it as meaning that the lottery can be used to pay for things that are new and which, because of their novelty, have not been paid for before by Government. The school fruit pilot scheme is a classic example: paid for by the lottery because it was new, but now paid for by central Government. Does that mean that if the Army orders a new type of tank, Ministers could use the lottery to pay for that because Government could not have paid for it before? Despite the Prime Minister's assurance, his Government soon began to dismantle the lottery and to use it to fund health and education. In 1998, Ministers placed 13 per cent. of lottery funds under their direct control; in 2001, they increased that to 33 per cent.; and now they are proposing to take 50 per cent.

The Government have turned the lottery into another stealth tax. We have heard during this debate just a few examples of where lottery funds have been used in place of Government funds: £93 million, as my hon. Friend Mr. Johnson pointed out, for MRI scanners in NHS hospitals; £285 million for child care; and £42 million for fruit in schools. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State said, Jamie Oliver worked a miracle in persuading Ministers, with the magic wand of publicity, to improve school food, but I doubt that he would want it to be paid for with lottery funds that would otherwise be going to charities and sports clubs.

The rather unconvincing line peddled by the Minister of State on this morning's "Today" programme was that the Bill will take powers away from Ministers. That is a clear case of double-think. Clause 14 clearly states:

"In exercising any of its functions the Big Lottery Fund shall comply with any direction given to it by the Secretary of State".

Perhaps that is why Luke Fitzherbert at the Directory of Social Change said that the Government's plans were

"a naked seizure of control".

The Government say that charities will do better from the Bill. They say that between 60 and 70 per cent. of the Big Lottery Fund's money will be spent on the voluntary and community sector. That is a very vague definition of charity. "Community" can mean many areas of Government expenditure, such as local schools and hospitals. This, by our calculations, still leaves up to £280 million a year unaccounted for, and which we can be sure will be spent on plugging the gaps in Government funding—a huge slush fund ready for the Government to call on when confronted by the next Jamie Oliver. If, as the Government maintain, charities are going to be so much better off, why did Stephen Bubb from the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations say that the Bill

"undermines the independence and integrity of the grant-making system" and call aspects of the Bill "very, very dodgy"? Why did the National Council for Voluntary Organisations say that it is still concerned, despite the assurance of Ministers, that

"the Lottery Bill still gives the Government too great a degree of control over Lottery funding"?

Why do not the Government place in the Bill a definite percentage that will go to charities?

My hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) and for Mid-Bedfordshire asked about some of the more controversial awards handed out by the New Opportunities Fund and, in all fairness, subsequently the Community Fund. Those ranged from the millennium dome—the cost of which, at about £700 million, was almost the equivalent of £25 for every household in the United Kingdom—to the Cusichaca trust, which received a grant of £440,000 to help Peruvian farmers breed fatter guinea pigs for human consumption. The list goes on and on. Such ludicrous grants serve only to undermine people's confidence in the very fabric of the lottery. That is why our election document "Action on Arts and Heritage" advocated a reputational impact clause saying that

"we will ensure that distributors take the Lottery's reputation into account when dispensing grants."

Perhaps the Minister will say whether he finds merit in that idea and whether it will be taken up by the Government.

We also published detailed and widely acclaimed proposals to restore the lottery to its original purpose—to give the Community Fund back its independence and guarantee that lottery money would be spent only on sport, charities, the arts and heritage. I regret that we are not able to implement those proposals, but I urge the House to consider supporting our amendment so that the lottery is not turned into another stealth tax and remains the treasured national institution that it is.

My hon. Friends the Members for Salisbury (Robert Key) and for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne) raised the subject of our national heritage, which is certainly dear to my heart. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury was particularly concerned about clauses 7 and 8 and their possible effect on our cathedrals and ecclesiastical buildings. As I know from my correspondence, that view is shared by many of our bishops. It should be pointed out—and will be, by us at any rate, in Committee—that the Heritage Lottery Fund does not have any unspent money. That is a myth—every single penny held by the Heritage Lottery Fund in its account has been committed to projects. The heritage sector has lost out under Labour, so let us be absolutely certain of the facts before we penalise it further.

How can we be sure that when remaining licences expire in 2009, the Big Lottery Fund will not become a single lottery distributor under the control of the Government? We have heard much tonight about efficiency exercises and the future of the Big Lottery Fund, but little about the renewal of licences for the other good causes—for sport, heritage and the arts. My party guaranteed at the last election that we would continue to receive a quarter of lottery funds after 2009; can the Minister give the same assurance tonight? Will he rule out the Big Lottery Fund taking an even greater share of lottery funds? I doubt that he will do so, because the Government simply cannot resist taking control of such a large amount of money.

In a reply to my hon. Friend Miss Kirkbride, the former Minister, Estelle Morris, said:

"Establishing the new body"— that is, the Big Lottery Fund—

"will require primary legislation. We are encouraging NOF and the Community Fund to work as closely together as possible in the meantime to begin to exploit the synergies between the two bodies and to ensure that full merger can happen quickly when the legislation is in place."—[Hansard, 5 January 2004; Vol. 416, c. 136W.]

Quickly? That reply was in January 2004.

This Bill is much delayed. Indeed, the Big Lottery Fund has been making allocations even though it does not officially exist until this Bill is passed—or, I stress, if this Bill is passed. The Bill is not due to go into Committee until the autumn. It will then go to the upper House, where there is no DCMS Minister, and it will very likely not return to this House until 2006—some two years after the reply that I just read out. That is, of course, assuming that the Bill passes through all its stages uninterrupted. I wonder what consideration the Government have given to the major difficulties that would result from the Bill failing. That just about sums up the mess into which the Government have got themselves. The Bill is unwanted and will herald the end of the national lottery as we know it. I therefore urge hon. Members of all parties to join us in rejecting the Bill, supporting the amendment and voting against the unsatisfactory programme motion, which will allow us only about four days in Committee when we return in October.

If the Bill proceeds, we can be sure that the Big Lottery Fund will get bigger, that Ministers will administer more lottery funds and that the national lottery, charities, sport, heritage and the arts will consequently suffer. The Bill will merely turn the people's lottery into the Secretary of State's lottery. Labour will have nationalised the national lottery.