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‘(3BA)At least three months before making an order under subsection (3A) the Secretary of State shall—
(a)give public notice of the proposed order, on his website and by other means,
(b)invite representations to be made to him, and
(c)consider those representations when making or not making the order, with or without modifications.
(3BB)The Secretary of State shall publish the representations and consultation responses received and give his reasons for making the order at the time of making the order.’.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Gale. The Committee started at a cracking pace this morning. I am not sure that we are making the progress that we should, but we are doing our level best. I am sure that you will both be indulgent and keep us in order.
I was trying it on, but clearly you will not be indulgent, Mr. Gale.
Without further ado, I shall proceed to amendment No. 29, which concerns the question of public consultation. We debated the subject of consultation by the Department earlier today, and it is something to which I would like to return in my concluding remarks.
The amendment would require the Secretary of State to carry out a public consultation before making an order to define prescribed expenditure. Three months is the Cabinet Office recommended period for Government consultations. Consultation responses would have to be published and reasons would have to be given by the Secretary of State for his decision. The amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State undertook appropriate consultation before making any orders to prescribe the expenditure of the fund. The argument is much the same as for previous amendments on consultation. Our aim is simply public accountability and I look forward to hearing whether the Minister, who is such a fan of consultation, will accept the amendment.
Before I conclude, I will turn the clock back to something that the Minister said this morning about his Department suffering from consultation fatigue. He asked me to produce the documentation in support of the allegations that I made, and I see that he has it in front of him. I have a précis of that document. It is clear that, during consultation on the compact advocacy programme, there were various rounds, and in each round there seems to have been some dispute between the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Department.
I will not rehearse it all, and nor would you allow me to, Mr. Gale, but it is true that on 5 September the NCVO wrote to the Minister to outline its concerns about the lack of the 12-week consultation period that is normally required under the compact. That, it maintained, created breaches in several areas in the compact code of good practice on consultation and policy appraisal. There were various exchanges. Indeed, the Minister wrote to consultees on 25 July that he was conscious of not allowing the full 12-week period for consultation but did not provide a reason for that action.
The NCVO has made various allegations. It is concerned that the consultation process is contributing to the lottery consultation fatigue that it has identified in this sector and to which the Minister alluded earlier, suggesting that some of his officials were suffering from it. The lack of proper consultation has served to undermine the trust between the NCVO sector, which is the seminal sector, and the Department, at a time when relations should be good and communications should be open. The consultation credibility deficit has had an unfortunate consequence.
I shall not dwell on the matter because the Minister has the document before him.He will doubtless wish to reconsider his remarks as a result, and respond in the normal way at the conclusion of the debate.
First, Mr. Gale, I echo the comments of the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) in welcoming you to the Chair.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and I support the amendment, as it would increase consultation. We had a somewhat heated debate this morning about prescription per se. The Government believe that it is important for the provision to remain in the Bill, but many people feel that it is worrying for the Secretary of State to have that power. The Minister sought to reassure us but, if that consultation procedure were included elsewhere in the Bill, it might reassure those with concerns.
As we have said, it is clearly important that the voice of the voluntary and community sector be heard. Earlier amendments were about the sector being consulted in other ways, but it is important to set out how consultation should take place. The amendment sets out a process of consultation that fits with the 1998 compact, by which Departments are required to abide. Three months would be sufficient time for consultation, and a variety of methods could be used. The internet is a new and growing method of ensuring that consultation is extensive and meaningful. The NCVO supports the amendment; it says that it sits well with the compact.
I welcome you, Mr. Gale, to the Chair; I did so in your absence this morning. I can definitely say that you are not indulgent—I have been under your chairmanship before—but I know that you are fair.
I ask the Committee to resist amendment No. 29. It would insert a new subsection into section 22 of the National Lottery etc. Act 1993 requiring a statutory consultation process before the Secretary of State makes an order. It would also require such consultation to take place at least three months before an order was made. We discussed consultation requirements in our debate this morning, and I can add little to what I said then.
We expect to consult widely before making orders, as we did recently on the interim order for the New Opportunities Fund, but we also need flexibility. We may sometimes need to act quickly, and a minimum of three months consultation would not be practical. However, the safeguard is there, because such orders would still be open to parliamentary scrutiny, as they would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. With that assurance, I hope that the hon. Member for East Devon will withdraw the amendment.
There has been some talk of consultation. The compact is important to us and, yes, a departmental review was undertaken by the NCVO. It was funded by the Big Lottery Fund; in effect, we funded it. There is nothing like funding if Members want to criticise, but that is democracy. The Big Lottery Fund decided that it would be appropriate to fund the review.
I am not going to say that we got everything right—we did not—but the compact is a significant move in the right direction. We might have missed a few dates by two weeks here or three weeks there, but I did not say that my Department was suffering from consultation fatigue. It is not; it is there to be consulted. I said that those outside bodies had said that the consultation took a lot of time and resources, and some quantified that as fatigue. When one looks at this document, by any standards, consultation has taken place. Not all the answers that the NCVO sought are there, but no one could deny that we take seriously the compact and the consultation with the voluntary sector. I say that genuinely because of the massive contributions that it makes to our society and our communities, and long may they do so. Long may the lottery also be there to ensure that the voluntary sector can carry out its tasks. That is what the Bill is all about—the modernisation and evolution of the lottery. Given those few words of assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
There will be a lot of poring over Hansard tomorrow, Mr. Gale, as the Minister and I disagree over who said what and when. I think it was a bit of an aside when he said that, and I shall concede if I am wrong.
None the less, he did not address the amendment—he made remarks. Concentration fatigue is clearly there. It would have been reassuring had he dealt with my central point, which concerns the lack of trust that now exists between the NCVO and the Department. Lack of proper consultation has undermined that trust.
That is nothing new. The Minister, when it suits him, prays in aid his Department’s consultations on how the public wish to see lottery money spent. Consultation with 800 people was talked about this morning, 5 per cent. of whom were not in agreement. We were talking in tiny numbers. However, the NCVO represents 4,000 members and is widely recognised as the voice of the sector, both within Government and outside. In an answer to a written question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) about which organisations had responded to the first round of the discussion about the merging of the New Opportunities Fund and the Community Fund, the Secretary of State did not mention the NCVO or acknowledge that several other organisations had also expressed concerns about the merger in their responses to the earlier consultation.
We seem to have consultation when it suits the Government. Results of the consultation appear to be ignored when it does not suit them. The Government largely ignored what the NCVO said in December 2002 about the proposed merger of the New Opportunities Fund and the Community Fund. The proposed merger came as a surprise to the voluntary and community sector, which did not believe that consultation had addressed the question of whether those two distributors should merge. We now find ourselves implementing this clause and relying yet again on the trust factor.
The Minister asked me to withdraw the amendment because he says that it would constrict the ability for manoeuvre. I must say that he and the Government have form. We cannot just let the amendment be withdrawn. We must be seen to insist on better consultation. There must be a defined period and identifiable means for that consultation, so that representations can be made.
The Minister cannot have it both ways. He is arguing that this is more than just a tidying-up exercise; that what he is doing reflects the views of the people out there—that is the phrase he uses. The people out there would be quite happy to have a three-month period of consultation before the Secretary of State can make such an order. During those three months, in a public and transparent manner, their views can at least be seen, if not taken into account, when orders are made under new subsection (3A).
Let me put on the record—yet again—the position with regard to the consultation that took place on our document. There were 850 respondents overall and approximately 630 people answered the questionnaire. However, 50 per cent. of respondents were not individuals but voluntary and community sector organisations and 21 per cent. were local authorities.
I do not want to put my officials to a lot of work, but I might have a cursory shot at how many people those local authorities and the voluntary sector bodies purport to represent. I do not want it to be thought that only 630 people responded. Organisations were consulted in some depth and the majority agreed with the themes that we have taken up in the Bill. Only 5 per cent. of the total number of organisations and individuals disagreed. We believe that that was reasonable.
I can also say—
Order. For the benefit of hon. Members who have not served under my chairmanship before, I think it needs to be understood that even Ministers can only intervene when they are intervening. They cannot make speeches.
I am grateful for your protection, Mr. Gale.
Here we go again: the Minister refers to the 800-people poll and the figures, but we have already been around that ground this morning. I do not want to canter around the same course again, to put it in terminology that the Minister would enjoy. Five per cent. of the 800—40-odd people—disagree. I have been referring to the NCVO, which represents more than 4,000 members. The Minister cannot go on arguing that his poll of 800 respondents is the same thing. To attempt to protect those who want to be consulted, we shall maintain that the amendment should stay. I am sorry if the fact that people respond creates more work for the Minister or his officials, but I rather thought that that was the idea of a consultation and the driving force of the Bill. I see no reason, having heard the Minister’s response, in which he failed again to deal with our concerns, to do anything but press the amendment to a Division.
I shall try to help the Committee. I shall ask my officials to quantify the number of people in the organisations that made representations, and the electorates of the local authorities, to give a wider sense of the consultation than 830 people. I acknowledge that the Opposition must table amendments and probe to ensure that the Government act in the country’s and the electorate’s best interests. However, we shall now vote on whether to insist in the Bill that three months’ consultation should take place. The hon. Gentleman should reflect on that.
Under that amendment, if there were agreement that some issues needed to be dealt with expediently, it would be necessary to go through that consultation, because it was in the Bill—despite our assurances that an affirmative resolution procedure could be used to provide for that. It is stupid to use the Bill to force through a situation that would prevent progress even when everyone wanted it. That is the danger of specifying such things in a Bill. It limits good governance.
I acknowledge that the amendment may well go to the vote, but it is not a good when making legislation to attempt to tie people’s hands, whoever is the incumbent. That is true whether we are talking about the Big Lottery Fund or the other distributors. It is necessary to inject common sense, accountability and transparency into the proceedings, and give Parliament the right to vote something down. I spelled that out clearly, when I asked the hon. Member for East Devon to withdraw the amendment. I have no doubt that my hon. Friends will vote the amendment down, but I want to explain that it is not good opposition to attempt to add such a provision to a Bill; it could stop good governance and good operation of the lottery. It would be negative.
The Minister is entitled to his views on what is or is not good opposition. We hope to give him the earliest possible opportunity to practise good opposition. It seems that the Minister is not keen to put anything in the Bill, and one has to ask why. It all comes back to the wonderful word that he has been using all morning: flexibility. To my way of thinking, flexibility allows for any kind of manoeuvring.
It is good opposition and good governance to insist that those who are responsible for making decisions about large amounts of money should be accountable. If the Minister has a problem with that, he should take it up with his colleagues in the Cabinet, because three months is the period recommended by the Cabinet Office for Government consultations. Responses have to be published and reasons given by the Secretary of State for his decision. If the Minister fundamentally disagrees with that, may I suggest that he take it up with the Cabinet Office?
No, I am going to conclude. I listened to what the Minister said, but I still believe that the amendment is needed. Of course, the Opposition will be defeated, but at least we will be seen as a principled Opposition, acting in the best interests of those who do not want to be steamrollered by an almighty Government. Without further ado, I ask for a Division on the amendment.
That is interesting. In effect, the past five minutes have been out of order, as the hon. Gentleman wound up the debate about five minutes ago. What has happened since should be put down not to indulgence but to flexibility. I simply say to both hon. Gentleman on the Front Benches, please do not try it again.
Before we start the next group of amendments, Mr. Sandall has brought to my notice the fact that Mr. Cook indicated that the clause has been satisfactorily debated, and that he does not recommend a clause stand part debate. I tell hon. Members that now, in case anybody wishes to try my patience by being unduly creative during the debate on the amendments.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 77, in schedule 2, page 18, line 27, leave out ‘Ministers’ and insert ‘Parliament’.
No. 79, in schedule 2, page 18, line 37, leave out ‘Ministers’ and insert ‘Parliament’.
No. 82, in schedule 2, page 19, line 19, leave out ‘Ministers’ and insert ‘Parliament’.
No. 84, in schedule 2, page 20, line 6, leave out ‘Ministers’ and insert ‘Parliament’.
No. 85, in schedule 2, page 20, line 15, leave out ‘Ministers’ and insert ‘Parliament’.
No. 37, in clause 14, page 7, line 26, leave out ‘Ministers’ and insert ‘Parliament’.
No. 60, in clause 14, page 8, line 45, leave out ‘Ministers’ and insert ‘Parliament’.
We may need to be creative if we wish to elongate the proceedings. The amendments can be dealt with swiftly by the Minister, in which case we may have no reason to press for a Division on them. Of course, I retain the right to do so after we have heard the Minister’s response.
What is the reason for the amendments, all of which would leave out “Ministers” and insert “Parliament”? There is an anomaly in how the decisions are to be made. In Wales, for instance, the Welsh Assembly is to be consulted, but in Scotland the Scottish Ministers are to be consulted. There may be a good reason why the bodies that are to be consulted are the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Ministers and the Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure—clearly, that is where that decision will be made while Stormont is suspended—but I would be interested to hear the Minister explain what would happen once Stormont is up and running again. Furthermore, we have not mentioned the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands. I ask the Minister to comment straightforwardly on the apparent anomaly of different consultees in the different parts of the kingdom. Is that a drafting matter, or is that how legislation is dealt with in different ways?
I echo the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. Perhaps as a Member representing a Scottish constituency, I have a particular interest in the matter. I, too, find it strange when reading through the Bill to see the Welsh Assembly listed as a consultee, yet in Scotland the equivalent body, the Scottish Parliament, is not. It lists just “the Scottish Ministers”.
That led me to wonder why it was the Scottish Ministers and not the Scottish Executive, and which Scottish Ministers it would be. Would it be the Culture Minister or different Ministers? I wondered how much thought had gone into the provision. There may well be a good reason for suggesting “the Scottish Ministers”. I questioned it, however, because I wondered to what extent we in the Westminster Parliament should dictate to the devolved Administration in Scotland how it should wish to be consulted.
If the amendment were agreed to, and “the Scottish Parliament” rather than “the Scottish Ministers” were inserted, it would be up to the Scottish Parliament to set up a specific Committee, or to leave it to the relevant Minister or the Executive to liaise with the Secretary of State. At least that decision could be taken within the devolved Administration.
Since devolving power to Holyrood in Scotland is one excellent thing that Labour has done since 1997, I wonder why “the Scottish Ministers” is in the Bill. I shall be interested to hear the answer to that.
The amendments would change references to “the Scottish Ministers” to “the Scottish Parliament” where they occur in relation to consultation and consent requirements throughout the Bill. The amendments would require the Scottish Parliament to be consulted on various Big Lottery Fund orders and directions, and for its consent to be obtained in relation to various Big Lottery Fund appointments.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s aim, but we cannot accept his amendments. The aim of the provisions to which the amendments apply is to confer Executive functions on the Executive branches of the devolved Administrations. That is consistent with the manner in which existing functions in lottery legislation have already been conferred on Scottish Ministers through a number of transfer of function orders.
It would not make sense to confer Executive functions on to a legislative body. That approach has been thoroughly discussed with Scottish Ministers, and the Scottish Parliament has signified its assent to these provisions by passing a Sewel motion.
Confusion may have arisen because of the reference to the National Assembly for Wales. The reference reflects the fact that there is no legal distinction between the Executive and legislative arms of Government in Wales. The functions conferred by this Bill will be exercised by the Welsh Assembly Government.
Because the responsibility is an Executive responsibility. It would not therefore be referred to the Scottish Parliament. The manner in which we are carrying out the provision has been discussed at length with the Scottish Ministers and with the Scottish Parliament, because it has been accepted through the Sewel motion. That motion has to go through the Scottish Parliament. There is an agreement with the Scots that this is the best way forward. We are now embodying that.
I accept the Minister’s point that the reference is to an Executive power, but, as a Scot, the phrase “the Scottish Ministers” seems a strange way of referring to the Administration in Holyrood. I should have thought that “the Scottish Executive” would have been the term used to refer to that group of people.
It is the phraseology that is used. We say in this Government, “the Secretary of State”. Who defines who the Secretary of State is? The answer to that is that they are the Secretary of State of Government. We are distinguishing between the Executive and the Parliament, and we are giving the powers to the Executive, not to the Parliament. That is different from what we have done in Wales, because in Wales there is no distinction between the Executive and the Parliament.
My right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) might be interested to know that, from my memory of sitting in similar Committees in which there has been a Sewel motion to enable us to legislate for Scotland, the term always used is “the Scottish Ministers”. My understanding is that that phrase is used by civil servants in drafting legislation because it has a specific legal meaning in the context of devolution.
The Minister will be glad to hear that he is winning me round to his way of thinking. This was just a probing exercise, but I wonder whether you will indulge me for two minutes, Mr. Gale, because this is interesting in the context of our discussion. What body, if any, in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands would be consulted?
That is a very good question. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman. I could give him an answer off the cuff, but it is bound to be wrong, so I hear what he says, and I shall make sure that I write.
We do not have the Sewel motion in the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands to the best of my knowledge, but I shall clarify the position.
The Minister has done a good job in explaining the differences to those of us who are still coming to terms with the intricacies of devolution, and I am reassured on behalf of the people of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man that he will write to me. I hope, therefore, that he will not think it poor opposition if I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.