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 We cannot just let the amendment be withdrawn.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).