I am more than happy to support the hon. Member for Bath in his amendments, but I rise to speak to the official Opposition amendments in the group. We have several concerns about the ability of the Big Lottery Fund to make loans, two of which I shall address. First, we are concerned that loans could be used as a way to bring down balances in an emergency, as it is much quicker to make a loan than to go through the process of making a grant. Secondly, is it envisaged that the same criteria will be applied to the granting of a loan as to the making of a grant? Both those points deserve clarification, and I would welcome a response to them.
On the first two amendments in the group, neither ours nor that of the Liberal Democrats would rule out the BLF being able to make loans; we merely suggest that there should be a limit on the value of those loans. Such a cap would ensure that the BLF retains its primary role as a distributor of lottery grants, rather than becomes a banker of lottery loans. Loans can be an important part of the funding mix for voluntary and community organisations, but my main concern is that lottery distributors should remain grant makers, for that is the basis on which the good causes have operated so effectively for the past 11 years.
I am sure that the Minister will reassure us that it is not intended that the Big Lottery Fund should make loans of greater value than our or the Liberal Democrats’ amendments would allow, and that the amendments are therefore unnecessary. I hope that he will assure me that the BLF’s power to make loans will not be used as a vehicle for Government funds. I refer here to our other proposed amendments to clause 14 regarding the BLF’s use of non-lottery funds, so you will be glad to know, Mr. Gale, that I will not raise that matter again. I am merely concerned as to whether it is intended that the BLF should make loans out of non-lottery or lottery funds, and whether the powers might be used to make the BLF more than a distributor of lottery money.
I am also keen to hear whether and, if he does, why the Minister disagrees with proposed amendments Nos. 36 and 99, which would remove the Secretary of State’s ability to micro-manage the Big Lottery Fund. The Minister has been assiduous in pointing out the fallacy of Opposition amendments that would, to his way of thinking, involve the micro-management of the whole national lottery enterprise by bringing various matters to Parliament, which he says would be ridiculous. The Opposition now wish to remove the Secretary of State’s ability to micro-manage the Big Lottery Fund, so logically—if there is any logic to the Minister’s thinking on this matter—he should support those amendments.
The Bill allows the Secretary of State to specify individual amounts for prescribed grants. That sort of micro-management is incompatible with the ability of the Big Lottery Fund to operate effectively as a distributor of hundreds of millions of pounds a year. We are not making a political point about the Secretary of State’s power but an operational one about the Big Lottery Fund, and the Minister will no doubt wish to respond to it.
Interestingly, given our discussions on earlier amendments, I note that proposed new section 36B(4)(c) to the 1993 Act, on the power to distribute funds, gives the Secretary of State the power to
“make provision by reference to the aggregate of amounts distributed, to a percentage of amounts available for distribution or otherwise”.
Does that mean that the Secretary of State could, with a wave of her hand, ensure that that 60 per cent. or 70 per cent. of the Big Lottery Fund goes to charities?