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Clause 13 - Establishment

Part of National Lottery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 25th October 2005.

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Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 4:45 pm, 25th October 2005

I am grateful that the Minister has given an undertaking; I was increasingly suggesting that what this Bill needs is an undertaker. Clearly, again, in some smoke-filled room, the Minister has obtained an assurance from Sir Clive, who is not directly accountable to this House.

I want to reflect on the mess that the Government have got themselves into, because the point about the Big Lottery Fund, the establishment of which is dealt with in clause 13—is that it is long overdue. On reason for the large balances—the Minister has been going on and on about drawing down balances, and some of the distributors holding far too large balances—is   arguably the uncertainty created by the lack of a Bill. Nobody has known what is going on. The Government may have created the Big Lottery Fund, which is not at present accountable to Parliament because it exists in some sort of shadow organisation, but it is long overdue, to the extent that about three or four days ago, there arrived on my desk advance warning of a statutory instrument about the New Opportunities Fund because there is no other way of spending the money at present.

The Minister should not tell me that it is all a plan; it is not planned. The Bill is overdue. Third Reading and Report might not come until next year and meanwhile there is tremendous disagreement, particularly in the voluntary sector, and considerable disquiet about what is behind the measure. There are even some—although I am not sure that I include myself in their number—who are so cynical about the Government’s motivation in creating the Big Lottery Fund that they are asking whether it would not be easier, having created this Frankenstein’s monster, to move towards having one distributor. If one is already responsible for distributing 50 per cent. of lottery take, why not award oneself the other 50 per cent.? After all, there is no principle involved; what is the difference in distributing the whole lot?

No doubt, the Minister, or his successor, would come to a Committee, if that were required, and argue convincingly that there would be further economies of scale and tremendous savings, all of which would be passed on to the end user. After another consultation—800 hits on his website representing hundreds of local authorities and other vested interests across the country—we will be told that that is what the people in the street who play the game want. I do not think so. That is not what people want; they want to maintain the difference between Government spend and lottery spend.

The Minister said something quite extraordinary about his cosy little chat with Sir Clive in his smoke-filled room—they had discussed the question of additionality, which is to feature in the report that is to come to the House of Commons Library every year. Well, I have news for the Minister: he may have discussed what he means by additionality with Sir Clive, but he has not discussed it with Her Majesty’s Opposition or the Liberal Democrats, and I have a sneaking feeling that the hon. Member for Bath has some pretty interesting things to say about additionality. The Minister may find that he has to ring Sir Clive and summon him back for another cosy little chat because he has suddenly realised that his view of additionality is not shared by any of us.

Before I have a seizure, I shall conclude by referring back to the clause that we are debating, which is about establishment. This is not a cheap, opportunistic piece of opposition. [Laughter.] Well, how interesting; I gave the Minister greater credit. In all seriousness, my party feels strongly about this issue. I suspect that others in the Room, who were Members when the   national lottery was set up—long before I became a Member of the House—feel pretty irritated and nervous about how it has been hijacked since Labour came to power.

We feel strongly about the national lottery because it is a Conservative idea that was designed to enliven the lives of people across the country who were beyond Government reach. That is not just the view of the Opposition. If it were, the Minister might be able to put his hands behind his back and give a knowing look, but he cannot. The Government cannot hide behind the excuse that we are opportunistic every time we oppose them. We are not opportunistic; we are the Opposition. There is a difference.

It is not only the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats who oppose the clause and the Bill so vehemently. I refer again to the concerns of the voluntary sector about the 2002 merging of the New Opportunities Fund and the Community Fund. The announcement came as a surprise to the voluntary and community sector; it did not believe that the consultation had addressed the question whether those distributors in particular should merge. The sector felt very strongly that no business case had been made for the merger and that the DCMS was acting in a way that was totally at odds with the compact.

I would argue that no business case has been made for either the merger or the creation, in this clause, of the Big Lottery Fund. The simple reason for no business case being made is that the proposed changes are not driven by business, economies of scale or a desire to get more money to the end user more quickly. Nothing in the Bill suggests that that would be the case if it were passed. The changes are driven by naked politics—a desire to create a lottery fund that controls 50 per cent. of all lottery takings to make up a shortfall in Government spend. That is a disgrace, and we should resist the clause in its entirety.