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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.
I beg to move amendment No. 76, in schedule 2, page 18, leave out lines 23 and 24.
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—
‘2AAn 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—
‘14AA 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’.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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 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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
If so, perhaps the Minister can anticipate my final question. Why are Northern Ireland Ministers not mentioned, but a Department is referred to instead? There is a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and there would be Ministers who were responsible if Northern Ireland had devolved powers. Is there a difficulty in that Ministers in Northern Ireland are drawn from conflicting political parties, not political parties that generally agree with each other, so that it is a matter of some importance in the devolution settlement which political party holds a particular Ministry? Three or four political parties could be dissatisfied were Sinn Fein to hold the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland. Similarly, three or four political parties could be dissatisfied if the Democratic Unionist party were to hold it.
In any organisation, there are questions of power and control. Much of what we have been debating today, especially on these clauses, is about the power and control that the Secretary of State has over the Big Lottery Fund. The ultimate power is that of appointing someone to a job and the ultimate sanction is that of removing them from it, so the maximum amount of influence is available to the Secretary of State. I ask the Minister to focus on two matters: the powers that the Secretary of State has over the appointment and removal of the Big Lottery Fund chairman and members of the board, and the differences in the Secretary of State’s powers over the Big Lottery Fund and over the other funds? If the Secretary of State can control the decision making of the board by the ability to use the ultimate sanction of removing the chairman, that must be examined and explained much more carefully.
With the Big Lottery Fund, are we not in danger of creating 12 non-jobs? On page after page of the Bill, it seems that every move the board members make will be second-guessed by the Secretary of State. Indeed, if they were to demonstrate autonomy in their decision making, they could be removed. Surely we want the Big Lottery Fund to have legitimacy in the eyes of the public. As such, the board members must sometimes be able to go against the wishes of the Secretary of State and show that they are thinking primarily of the British taxpayer and those who will benefit from the projects that are funded. The Bill does the Big Lottery Fund a huge disservice. What is the point of having such a fund? Let us just be done with it, give the final powers to the Secretary of State and end this charade.
Before I invite the Minister to respond, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, for wholly proper parliamentary reasons, was unable to be here at the start of the proceedings and did not hear the debate on Scottish Ministers. Were the Minister to try to reply to his questions on that matter, I would have to rule him out of order, but it is entirely up to him to decide whether to reply on the Northern Ireland Department.
I have no intention at all of replying to those questions, Mr. Gale, but I thank you for your ruling. I shall try to answer the debate effectively, but I preface my remarks by pointing out that all the powers in this Bill were included in the London Olympics Bill—exactly the same powers, exactly the same wording—and were accepted without a vote or any expressions of concern.
Amendment No. 76 would mean that the chairman of the lottery fund was unable also to represent the interests of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland in the chair of the relevant country committee. Those committees were set up to exercise functions in relation to devolved expenditure in each country. I see no reason why the chairman of the Big Lottery Fund should not be able to chair one of those committees. After all, the committees and the fund work toward the same objective.
Amendment No. 78 would prevent the Secretary of State from varying the number of members of the Big Lottery Fund from 12 following consultation with devolved Administrations. That appears short-sighted. Not only would it make the arrangements inflexible, but restricting membership to a set number would make it difficult to cope with future circumstances.
I see no need for amendment No. 75, which specifies that members should be appointed for no longer than five years. That is similar to the standard Nolan procedure, which allows members appointed to public bodies to remain in post for no more than 10 years.
Anybody would think that we were reinventing the wheel. A lot of non-departmental public bodies have been set up over many years. The procedures in the Bill are no different from those used when setting up the New Opportunities Fund. They can be found in the London Olympics Bill and elsewhere. They have been operating rather successfully for many years. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. I see no need for amendment No. 75.
Amendment No. 80 seeks to change the provision on tenure in paragraph 4(1)(b). It would allow the Secretary of State to remove the chairman or members if they were deemed to be unfit or unable to discharge the functions of the office. If the member or chairman were unwilling to perform the functions they were employed to undertake, regardless of whether they were unable or unfit, the Secretary of State should have the power to remove them.
When reappointing a member, the Secretary of State would normally seek feedback from the chairman. This is the real world that we live in—I hope—and such provisions have successfully been in operation for many years. The Secretary of State would get feedback from the chairman on a member’s performance; it would be done informally, but it is normal practice nevertheless. If a member were deemed not to be performing as required, the Secretary of State would follow the procedures in paragraph 4.
Amendment No. 81 would reduce the Secretary of State’s power to remove a member from office, as it would mean that his decision would need to be ratified by two-thirds of the members. That seems unnecessary, as I am certain that the Secretary of State would have consulted the chairman of the board before using the power, and one would expect—again, it happens in the real world—the chairman to have consulted fellow members of the board on such issues.
Amendment No. 83 is about the country committees, which have an important role to play in the delivery of the fund. They represent a significant devolution of power from the devolved Administrations, and they are established to exercise the fund’s function in relation to each country’s expenditure. It is vital that those committees function effectively and that they have the right membership. It is right that the Big Lottery Fund should select and propose their membership, but the Secretary of State or the relevant devolved Minister should have the final say over who is appointed. A requirement only to consult under amendment No. 83 would not be sufficient.
There is one step before that: broadly speaking, people tend to be vetted by the public appointments panel, and the Nolan procedures are followed. Normally, people put their names forward as a result of an advertisement. That process usually results in boards finding fit and proper people to serve on them. It is not a process that allows a person to say, “You can sit on that board.” It is not like that in the real world. That is not allowed because of what happened under previous Administrations. We now have the Nolan procedures and a central list, and there is transparency. People are appointed through those normal procedures, and I do not believe that anyone could get over those hurdles who was not a fit and proper person. The Big Lottery Fund is quite happy with the arrangement, and we do not believe that it would hinder the fund’s ability to recruit a good executive committee.
Amendment No. 86 seeks to prescribe a quorum. That is totally unnecessary. There is no reason that the fund cannot decide that matter for itself, as do other public bodies.
Amendment No. 87 seeks to provide that the validity of the proceedings of the fund or a committee would be affected by a defect in the appointment of a person as chairman. Such a provision would be unusual and potentially awkward if the board’s proceedings were affected because of unforeseen problems in the appointment of a chairman.
Apology accepted. I shall now answer the Northern Ireland question.
The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure works under the direction of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland during suspension or the direction of the First Minister once the suspension is over, so there is no need to change the reference to the Department.
May I be clear about one of the Minister’s earlier answers? Is there no constitutional difference between the appointment procedure for the chairman of the Big Lottery Fund board and those for the chairmen of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the other funds? Is it exactly the same procedure with the same powers?
Yes, it is the same procedure, but obviously the powers are different because one is a bigger fund. The procedures, including the Nolan procedures, are exactly the same as for any other non-departmental public body.
Goodness me. I do not know where to start. I thought that the amendments were helpful; I thought that they would reinforce the fact that there is clear water between the Secretary of State and the board, which would help the Minister to show those outside this Room that he is committed to the Big Lottery Fund board having genuine independence from the Secretary of State. By rejecting all the amendments, he has yet again shown that that is not the case.
At the beginning of his speech, the Minister implied that the Opposition were once again being opportunistic or over-zealous by tabling amendments to the schedule because the London Olympics Bill had been virtually nodded through. I cannot say much about that Bill—I was not a member of the Committee that considered it—but that may be because the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats largely agreed with what the Bill was trying to do.
My party is reassured that the Olympics has a greater chance of success due to the fact that two Tory peers—Lords Moynihan and Coe—are pretty much in charge of it. We are supportive because we know that the Olympics and everything around it will probably be run pretty well. [Interruption.] I say “pretty well” because of a legitimate concern about lottery overspend. The creation of the Big Lottery Fund and the potential for lottery overspend at the Olympics may not be unrelated.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that only members of the Conservative party will have any credibility as chairmen of those organisations?
That is certainly not what I said. I was saying that, in that case, we are reassured that two people with sound business experience, who happen to be Conservative peers, are in charge. I would say that the Olympics had a better chance of success than other enterprises being run, with rather less experience, by the present Government—I cite the example of the great success of the dome.
Order. We have done the dome today. I can find many things in schedule 2, but I can find nothing relating to qualifications. The hon. Gentleman is possibly out of order.
I stand corrected, Mr. Gale.
The real problem here, if we do not press the amendment to a Division, is what we will allow to slip through under the net. We would effectively give the Secretary of State total control over the appointment of the board and the ability to remove people as and when she saw fit. We would give her the power to expand the board if those left were still unwilling. If she had sacked so many of them that they had be given a vestige of independence, she could pack it full with placemen. According to the Minister, the Secretary of State will rely on feedback. If the chairman is not up to standard, the board will rely on feedback and the Secretary of State will presumably deliberate and pronounce sentence on the wretched chairman.
I am not a lawyer, but I do not know that the highest court of appeal in the land can be the Secretary of State who has originally nodded through the appointment and then made a decision based on feedback. What rights will this poor fed-back chairman have? No doubt, like most of my constituents who reach the end of the road in their cases, he would scoot off to the European Court of Human Rights. Undoubtedly his rights would have been infringed. I hope that the Minister will answer those 10 points. That was a joke. That is what we will be nodding through. The Secretary of State will be the highest appeal for this poor fed-back chairman and so it goes on.
That was extremely elegantly put by the hon. Member for Bath. It is almost bath time so perhaps we should not delay proceedings any further. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I beg to move amendment No. 91, in schedule 2, page 21, leave out line 22.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 88, in schedule 2, page 21, line 22, leave out ‘the Secretary of State’ and insert ‘Parliament’.
No. 89, in schedule 2, page 21, line 23, leave out ‘the Secretary of State’ and insert ‘Parliament’.
No. 92, in schedule 2, page 21, leave out lines 25 to 27.
No. 90, in schedule 2, page 21, line 26, leave out ‘the Secretary of State’ and insert ‘Parliament’.
No. 93, in schedule 2, page 21, leave out lines 28 to 31.
I will try to speed up on this group of amendments as I suspect that we will not get much agreement from the Minister on any of them. They are designed to flag up our concerns about the financial management of BLF staff. I will go quite quickly, but my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), who has a distinguished business career involving hiring and firing and has accumulated mammoth wealth such as the BLF members will be in charge of distributing, may have his own views about the way the board has been set up and its members are being financially rewarded.
We are concerned about the Secretary of State’s ability to become involved in levels of remuneration and compensation. She will be responsible for hiring, firing, paying and compensating them. She will be almighty in these matters. I suspect that the Government will find themselves with a rather compliant board because these people will doubtless want to be hired, remunerated and compensated should it all go horribly wrong. This is really a series of probing amendments.
In amendment No. 91, we suggest leaving out line 22, which is bad news for those who thought that they were going to get rich on the board of the Big Lottery Fund, because we suggest that we do not remunerate any of its members. In that way, we will get people who genuinely want to serve their communities. The Minister keeps referring to the public appointments board and the Nolan rules, but I thought that Nolan was more to do with standards affecting public life than with appointments, although the two no doubt cross over.
In amendment No. 88, we suggest leaving out “Secretary of State” and inserting “Parliament”, because Parliament, not the Secretary of State, should decide on the terms and conditions of employment for the chairman and members. The provision in the Bill is another example of the concentration of power in the hands of the Secretary of State, to which we are philosophically opposed. Amendment No. 89 would also leave out “Secretary of State” and vest power in “Parliament”—that often overlooked body, which is meant to be in charge of matters in this country.
In amendment No. 92, we suggest leaving out lines 25 to 27. The schedule gives the Secretary of State total discretion over BLF board members’ pensions, pay and so on. The Minister prayed in aid the public appointments board and Nolan, so, logically, he would probably agree that such things should be determined by an independent body to avoid any question of the arrangement being too cosy.
For the sake of argument, we have paired amendment No. 92 with amendment No. 90—in fact, we did not pair them, because it is up to you to do so, Mr. Gale. Amendment No. 90 would also leave out “the Secretary of State” and insert “Parliament”, so Parliament would, again, decide who to pay.
Amendment No. 93 would leave out lines 28 to 31, removing the Secretary of State’s right to set compensation for members removed from the BLF board. The schedule is extraordinary. It states:
“If the Secretary of State thinks that there are special circumstances that make it right for a person ceasing to hold office as Chairman or member to receive compensation, the Fund may pay him such compensation as the Secretary of State may determine.”
That is quite extraordinary, because it basically allows the Secretary of State, having received feedback that the chairman is unwilling to pursue the policy that the Secretary of State wants pursued, to say, “Right, we’ve had the feedback, and you’re not performing, so we’re going to sack you. But don’t worry, because before you go rushing off to the News of the World, The Sun or the Daily Mail, here is your compensation package.” Presumably, that will be paid for out of lottery funds, rather than Government funds—it will perhaps be a little more PFI off-balance-sheet accounting—and the Secretary of State will say, “Don’t worry; we’ll just shift the money around. Here’s a nice little package.” Having received that, no one would, I am sure, go to the News of the World, The Sun or the Daily Mail.
That is completely unacceptable. Why on earth should the Secretary of State have the power in “special circumstances”—those are undefined, but we will no doubt be told that the usual form applies—to compensate someone
“ceasing to hold office as Chairman or member”?
The Bill does not say what the criteria are—perhaps that person will have been asked to stop being a member or the chairman—so things are very open. There is no suggestion as to the amount of compensation, which could be anything from £1 to £100 million, but we will no doubt be told that we are opposing for opposition’s sake and that the Bill reflects the normal way of doing things.
I suggest, however, that a new Bill that so radically changes everything else gives us a good opportunity to say, “Hang on a minute, let’s try to make the legislation better.” After all, that is why we are going through this charade of a Committee, and we hope that the Minister will realise that although we fundamentally disagree with the Bill, we are trying to make it better in the event that we must have it. So let us not always say, “We’ve always done things this way,” because that is not always the best way—not for a progressive Conservative such as I, at any rate.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. If we set a five-year fixed term, but the Secretary of State decides after one year that a person is not suitable for the job, we could find ourselves having to fork out taxpayers’ or lottery money for the remaining four years of that fixed contract.
Indeed, but I strongly suspect that it will not be taxpayers’ money. I am glad that my hon. Friend makes the distinction between lottery money and taxpayers’ money because that is the very line that the Government seek to blur in the Bill. We can be sure that if somebody is deemed not to be performing or not to fit in, for whatever reason, he will be able to be compensated by the Secretary of State for an unspecified reason for an unspecified sum from an unspecified source. That process has no place in legislation. Nobody in the private sector would take on anybody on such terms. We do not know what the Government are proposing to pay the members of the board—no doubt the Minister will say “the usual amount”, whatever that is—but I do know that the clause is very unusual. It is to be resisted, and would certainly not hold water in any private organisation in which I have ever been involved. I doubt that anybody in this Room could agree with it.
The hon. Member for Bath is trying to speed me up. I know that he wants to leap in because he has a lot to say on this group of amendments, which is a mixture of probing amendments about the powers of remuneration and expressions of concern about the ability of the Secretary of State to have hiring, firing and compensating powers with no checks.
I am conscious of the time, whether bath time or otherwise. I support many of the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for East Devon about the general desirability of removing the Secretary of State’s sweeping powers and ensuring that there is more accountability in decision making; for example to Parliament. However, I question whether the amendment would achieve that in the best possible way. Would it not be better to require the Secretary of State to put to Parliament the decisions being made by order, so that there was accountability? Perhaps the Minister could comment on that.
I want to take issue with the suggestion that if we reward board members, we will not get people who are genuinely interested, because such people would do it for no remuneration. I have worries about that, because not everybody is in the fortunate position of the hon. Member for Windsor of being able to give up time to volunteer for a public body without remuneration. There is a growing acceptance that when people give up their time to be councillors or to serve the public in other ways we should recognise that and ensure that they are paid. If we do not, there will be grave consequences for the diversity of the people who can serve on public bodies—not everybody can do so unpaid.
I also feel that there may be better ways to express concern about the overreaching powers of the Secretary of State.
All the amendments concern the remuneration of the chairman or other members of the board or a committee of the Big Lottery Fund, as set out in schedule 2. The hon. Member for East Devon is right; the amendments seek to change standard provision for representation on public bodies. Equal provisions apply to the Community Fund and the New Opportunities Fund. Parliament has also approved such provisions for the Olympic distributor and the Horserace Betting and Olympic Lottery Act 2004. I can assure the Committee that the format that we propose in the Bill is tried and trusted. I see no reason why the Big Lottery Fund should be different.
Amendment No. 88 would remove the power of the Secretary of State to determine the remuneration of the chairman or other members of the board or a committee of the Big Lottery Fund, transferring it instead to Parliament. I am sure that, if this set a precedent, Parliament would be delighted to have to determine the pay and remuneration of all such committees. The Secretary of State is normally responsible for approving remuneration. Transferring that responsibility to Parliament seems most unnecessary. Remunerations change only in line with inflation, so there would be little need for the matter to go through Parliament.
Amendments Nos. 89 and 90 are not dissimilar, in that they would remove the Secretary of State’s power to determine travel and other allowances, and pensions, allowances or gratuities to be paid by the fund.
I am not sure whether that was another guarantee, promise, offer or aspiration, but the Minister said that the remuneration would change only in line with inflation. Is he saying that at no stage in the lifetime of any of the public bodies set up under the Government has there been any alteration to the terms of remuneration other than changes in line with inflation? Or is he merely making a promise for the future?
As to the past, I shall repeat the advice that has been given to me that remuneration changes only in line with inflation, so that there would be little need to discuss that in Parliament. If that is wrong, or if the hon. Gentleman challenges it, I shall check it, or get my officials to check it, and put my findings in writing.
Amendments Nos. 89 and 90 would give to Parliament the Secretary of State’s power to determine allowances, pensions and gratuities. As with amendment No. 88, it seems unnecessary for Parliament to determine payments such as travel allowances and pensions, as those change only in line with inflation and it would not be a good use of Parliament’s valuable time.
Amendment No. 91 would remove the power to pay remuneration to the chairman or members of the board or a committee. We need the power to pay board members when appropriate. If we assumed that members would be content to serve on the board or committees of the Big Lottery Fund without any possibility of remuneration our ability to recruit high-calibre candidates would be limited. It is important for board members to come from a wide and diverse field, and the amendment would restrict the field of candidates. If the hon. Member for East Devon is what he calls a progressive Conservative he should revisit what he said earlier.
Amendment No. 92 would prevent the fund from paying pensions, allowances or gratuities where appropriate. Not being able to do so would restrict our ability to choose the strongest candidates to serve as board members. For similar reasons we resist amendment No. 93, which, like the other amendments, would change standard provision. We cannot expect the chairman or members to serve on the board without the possibility of compensation should special circumstances require them to cease to hold office.
They will not be paid for loss of office. I am the chairman of the Millennium Commission at the moment and I, rightly, do not get one penny piece. To the best of my knowledge, there has been a 50 per cent. reduction in the number serving on the board in the past three months. None of those concerned were compensated, and they would not expect to be.
These are honourable people who want to serve the public. There may be the odd exceptional circumstance, so that different things happen, which is why the reserve powers are necessary. However, hundreds of people serve on the boards in question, giving valuable service to communities around the country and receiving, probably, little by way of expenses or remuneration, which seldom even begins to compensate them. I do not know what expenses are given to the people with whom I have served on the Millennium Commission, but they spend hours travelling the country to ensure that the commission is seen in the best possible light.
It is unthinkable that we should take the action set out in the amendments against such people. Hon. Members who want to pass measures to prevent them receiving a modicum of financial reward should reflect on what kind of people they are. Their attitude is unacceptable to me, but modern Conservatism obviously thinks differently.
The word I used was “progressive”. As a progressive Conservative, I acknowledge the work of the people in question, but I also want to protect them and one of my amendments would prevent them being hired and fired by the Secretary of State. The Minister says that the powers are reserve powers, but should not people be better protected? Referring back to an earlier amendment, should not two-thirds of the board decide whether a member is performing, rather than the Secretary of State having reserve powers? What kind of signal does the Minister wish to send?
I pray in aid the fact that for eight years, to the best of my knowledge, none of the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has just described arose in any of the NDPBs that operate on behalf of Government, and I do not believe that they will in future. We are legislating for exceptional circumstances: 99.9 per cent. of such bodies provide a valuable service. There may well be the odd exception, but the vast majority act in the public good. The amendments would change what are clearly standard provisions.
No. I apologise if I misled the hon. Gentleman. The constitution of the Millennium Commission was different in that it had Government and Opposition Members and Members of the other place, including Lord Heseltine. Members of Parliament are not eligible to serve on NDPBs.
I beg to move amendment No. 96, in schedule 2, page 22, leave out lines 9 to 14.
The hon. Gentleman said that he might get reported and sacked. I point out that the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) is not in the Room at present, but he and I had a fairly serious chat before he left.
I do not know what to make of that. I hope that no one is hoping to compromise the wheels of the proper democratic process of opposition. If the hon. Gentleman is encouraging brevity, I take his point.
Amendment No. 96 is a probing amendment, which would remove the ability of the BLF to deposit money in an interest-bearing account. What does the proposal actually mean? Does it mean the National Lottery Distribution Fund and if not, why not? The amendment is designed to elicit an explanation from the Minister. If the account referred to is not the National Lottery Distribution Fund—having seen the Minister’s civil servants nod in accord, I have a sneaking feeling about the answer—where do the other distributors keep their balances? What is the fund and where is it? The investment power does not seem to be provided to any of the other distribution bodies established by the previous Acts.
The amendment would remove the Big Lottery Fund’s powers to invest money. Paragraph 20 of new schedule 4A to the 1993 Act, which is inserted by schedule 2, allows the funds to invest money in an interest-bearing account. Most of the 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 the new section 36C of the 1993 Act, which is inserted by clause 14, may be invested under the power in new schedule 4A. The hon. Gentleman has sought elsewhere to limit the BLF’s powers to handle non-lottery funds, but he has not sought to remove those powers entirely. Given that the BLF will have such powers, that makes sense. The BLF is able to invest money received in an interest-bearing account and gain interest on it. I am not sure what advantages there would be in requiring the BLF to keep its funds under the mattress. I hope that, in light of what I have said, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.