With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 47, in clause 14, page 8, line 16, leave out ‘A direction’ and insert ‘guidance’.
No. 48, in clause 14, page 8, line 17, leave out ‘specify’ and insert ‘suggest’.
No. 49, in clause 14, page 8, line 19, leave out ‘specify’ and insert ‘suggest’.
No. 50, in clause 14, page 8, line 24, leave out ‘A direction’ and insert ‘guidance’.
No. 52, in clause 14, page 8, line 39, leave out ‘A direction’ and insert ‘guidance’.
No. 73, in clause 18, page 11, line 13, leave out subsections (2) and (3).
I was going to ask if I could raise a point of order, but because I am opening the proceedings this morning, I shall resist doing so. As 48 hours have passed since our last deliberations, I invite the Minister to enlighten the Committee as to where, in any columns of Hansard, I have in any way impugned the reputation of the Secretary of State, his officials or anyone at the Big Lottery Fund. Having made those accusations in earlier deliberations, I am sure that he will be gracious enough to enlighten the Committee by pointing that out. He has a moment to find that evidence while I talk to the amendment.
The amendment relates to new section 36E and we would welcome the Minister’s response. Speaking for myself and, I think, for my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), we have made some serious points about the earlier clauses of the Bill, and we hoped to see some movement from the Government. However, those points have been dismissed, which raises the question whether the Minister is in listening mode or is just determined to ram the Bill through, late though it is, without acknowledging the fact that the Opposition parties have legitimate concerns, as do the many voluntary groups and bodies who fear what the Bill could mean—not what it necessarily will mean—for their funding, and in some cases, their existence.
The amendments are an example of our developing theme all the way through our deliberations. The Government are trying to ensure that 50 per cent. of control over lottery funds is vested in the Secretary of State, albeit through the Big Lottery Fund board. The Secretary of State has ultimate control, and we are concerned that that represents too much power in the hands of one person. It has been argued that this is not particularly different from the National Lottery Act 1993 and the subsequent amendment to it, but we have proved that that is not the case. Whereas plenty of advice was previously offered by the Secretary of State, I do not think that the word “comply” cropped up.
Subsection (4), to which the wide-ranging power appears to be subordinate, only prevents the Secretary of State from giving certain directions relating to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Although he has shed some of his all-embracing power in relation to those countries—merely to hand it over to another body—he has absolute control of the Big Lottery Fund in England. That is the position.
As usual, in his customary way, my hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Mr. Cook will not allow me to stray too much into the meaning of subsection (4), because we will come to that later. All I will say is that my hon. Friend is right about the fact that the Secretary of State effectively appoints the Big Lottery Fund board. The board then selects sub-boards to cover the regions. If we were to draw up a chart, we would see that, in effect, all the powers ultimately flow to and from the Secretary of State. That is perfectly clear—unless the Minister wishes to intervene to tell me that I have misread the Bill and misunderstood what the Government are trying to achieve.
Amendment No. 46 would improve the wording of the Bill by leaving out
“comply with any direction given to it” and inserting
“have regard to any guidance made”.
We are also deleting “direction” and inserting “guidance”, deleting “specify” and inserting “suggest” in subsequent provisions. The amendments remove the ability of the Secretary of State to force the Big Lottery Fund to comply with any directions that she makes. As it stands, the Bill forces the Big Lottery Fund to “comply with any direction” the Secretary of State gives it. Under the powers in the clause, the Secretary of State can tell the Big Lottery Fund exactly who to make grants to and exactly how much money to give.
Section 26(1) of the National Lottery etc. Act 1993, which falls under the heading “Control by the Secretary of State” on page 8—I repeat my thanks to the Minister and his officials for providing the document, which makes it easy to find this information—states:
“A body shall comply with any directions given to it by the Secretary of State as to the matters to be taken into account” when making grants. That set up the broad framework within which grants were to be made. The new powers bind the Big Lottery Fund hand and foot to the prerogative of the Secretary of State.
Given the reaction to our suggestions that the hold of the Secretary of State should be weakened, I do not expect much movement from the Minister. I shall be grateful if we get any.
Surely the hon. Gentleman should be slightly more optimistic. He will recall that on Monday the Minister, at the Dispatch Box during Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions, told the House that the Bill did not include any additional powers. Given that these are clearly additional powers, the Minister will want to honour the commitment that he made to the House and accept the hon. Gentleman’s amendments. [Interruption.]
I think that the Minister is saying “absolutely”, which suggests that the hon. Member for Bath has scored a bull’s eye and we need not detain the Committee any longer because the Minister intends to stand by a commitment that he made on the Floor of the House and accede to all these requests. I do not know whether “absolutely” is an undertaking, a commitment, a promise or an aspiration, but I suggest to the Minister and the hon. Member for Bath that if the Minister is now minded to stand by commitments that he made to the House on the Floor of the House, perhaps we will have some good news on other matters, such as the issue of the 60 or 70 per cent. reserved for charities in the Big Lottery Fund. His comments made on the Floor of the House are in Hansard for all to see.
I suddenly see the sun breaking through an otherwise cloudy day and, thanks to the hon. Member for Bath, I am re-energised and full of optimism that we will finally see a Minister agreeing that what he or she said in the last few weeks on the Floor of the House is a commitment, rather some vague, wishy-washy aspiration.
I am grateful that the sun shines so brightly, as the Minister has mentioned, on my shirt and on my tie.
I fear that my hon. Friend has been led down paths that he should forbear to tread by the hon. Member for Bath, because my hon. Friend has, in the light of the comments made by the hon. Gentleman, expressed confidence in a commitment given on the Floor of the House by the Minister.
The hon. Member for Bath will I am sure correct me because I do not have Hansard for last Monday in front of me, but I am told that we heard the Minister say that the Bill did not give Ministers any more powers. Of course it does. The only way in which the Bill can reflect the commitment given by the Minister is for the Minister to accept this group of amendments. An aspiration, promise, guarantee or whatever cannot be made reality unless this group of amendments is carried by the Committee or at a subsequent stage in the Bill’s progress.
Once again, in a state of confusion, I am sure that I have picked up wrongly the point being made by the hon. Member for East Devon. Perhaps the hon. Member for Isle of Wight can clarify it. The 1993 Act says:
“A body shall comply with any directions given to it by the Secretary of State”.
Given the almost identical wording in the Bill before us, what new powers does the hon. Gentleman see the Secretary of State taking upon herself?
“A body shall comply with any directions given to it by the Secretary of State as to the matters to be taken into account in determining the persons to whom, the purposes for which and the conditions subject to which the body distributes any money under section 25(1)”.
I emphasise two points. First, new section 36E ranges more widely than “distributes any money”. Secondly, in relation to “matters to be taken into account”, under the current legislation the Secretary of State may lay down criteria alongside which the distributing bodies may determine how lottery players’ money is distributed, but he may not specify bodies to which money may or may not be distributed. That is the power, among many others given by new section 36E in the principal Act, which the Government propose under clause 14 of the legislation before us.
Let us go through the clause in a little more detail, because this is not only the school meals clause; it is the school meals clause, the dome clause and the “We’ll grab some money for computers in schools” clause, which the Treasury is not prepared to pay for out of direct taxation. This is the clause above all that ensures that Ministers and particularly the Secretary of State—not necessarily this Secretary of State—may impound lottery players’ money and hand it to anyone he chooses to designate. We may be misled not only by the promise that the Minister gave in the House but by subsection (3) of new section 36E. That subsection goes into various details, which we will discuss further when we come to another group of amendments. If we are not careful, we may read the first line of subsection (3) not as
“A direction under this section may, in particular” allow certain things to be done, but as
“A direction under this section may” only allow certain things to be done.
Subsection (3) does not limit the Secretary of State’s powers under new section 36E. It only indicates where the Secretary of State has already thought he might exercise them. He must not only justify the powers explicitly laid down in subsection (3)—perhaps he will do that when we consider a subsequent string of amendments—but justify every single power that he may exercise under any circumstances whatever in pursuit of new section 36E.
Taken together with clause 19, in which the meaning of “charitable expenditure” is expanded to “benevolent or philanthropic purpose” and which says that organisations no longer have to be designated, the Secretary of State’s power specifically to direct expenditure opens up the gamut of Government expenditure instead of keeping it tied down to charitable organisations or similar.
Indeed. My hon. Friend has hit the button precisely.
Let me indulge in a small flight of fancy. If the Government collapsed tomorrow under the weight of the argument in Cabinet about the Bill on smoking and a general election were held, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Leader of the Opposition, might win—despite having resigned, he is still the Leader of the Opposition—and my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon might become Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. That may be a flight of fancy, but it is not an unworthy aspiration. My hon. Friend might define the Conservative party as a benevolent and philanthropic institution. Many of us agree that it is. It is certainly philanthropic, has benevolent objectives and wants to do good for the people of this country, particularly the poor, the downtrodden, those left behind in our inner cities—
With or without its present Member of Parliament. We are a philanthropic party and a benevolent party and if the law did not accept that, the Secretary of State could, by order, direct that we were so. If the Big Lottery Fund, with its trustees appointed by the current Secretary of State, were unwilling to make a grant to the Conservative party to cover the costs of our election expenses—fighting elections is expensive and many of the big businesses to which the Government are so closely allied, such as the breweries, give money only to the Government—the Secretary of State could direct it to do so and it would be obliged to do so.
I am thoroughly enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s flight of fancy. If his hon. Friend the hon. Member for East Devon became Secretary of State in the new Conservative Government that he predicts will be in power before the end of the week, surely any controversial decisions—I shall not discuss whether the Conservative party should be a charitable organisation—that he took would be subject to the support of Parliament, and to a vote by the British people in any subsequent election. That is what democratic accountability is all about.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. The sun is really shining now. In fact, I have under my nose the faint whiff of the leatherette in the back of the Mondeo, into which I can imagine getting any minute now to go to an important meeting.
My hon. Friend omitted to say that if the Secretary of State, whether me or anyone else, were to give a directive to the Big Lottery Fund to give money to his party—as we have seen in The Times today, all political parties need money, including the Liberal Democrats, who certainly need it—but the board members for whatever reason did not comply with that directive, the Secretary of State could remove them for being unwilling and pack the board full of placemen who would comply.
My hon. Friend could do that, but why bother? We would have 12 good men and true collecting £5,000 a year—I concede that that is not a huge sum to pay people who give time to public bodies—so why bother to change them if the Secretary of State has power over them? He would change them only if he did not have time to issue directions. I accept that not all Secretaries of State have sufficient time to issue all the directions they wish to issue if they have to go through the civil service machine.
Let us abandon my flight of fancy about one extreme that a Secretary of State could go to under the new section and deal with subsection (2)(a), which states that the Secretary of State may
“specify persons to whom the Fund may or may not make grants”.
The Secretary of State could specify any number of organisations for no better reason than that he does not like the colour of some trustee’s eyes.
The Secretary of State may
“specify purposes”— any range of purposes whatever—
“for which the Fund may or may not make grants or loans”.
I am not sure whether that is subject to previous clauses, but I take it that they will be read together. The Secretary of State can say that no money whatever will be given to support asylum seekers, the breeding of guinea pigs or sailing clubs, or football clubs because they are too competitive or too uncompetitive. He could decide on the basis of reasons that any member of this Committee or Member of the House other than the Secretary of State would believe are completely unreasonable, but if he believed them reasonable and the courts under judicial review believed them reasonable, he may do it.
A direction may
“relate to the process used to determine what payments to make”.
In other words, the Secretary of State can lay down the means by which the availability of grants will be advertised, the newspapers they may be advertised in, the shape and size of the pages of the form with which one applies for a grant and the language or languages in which those forms must be printed.
Perhaps I did not make myself entirely clear in my earlier intervention. The point of our system is that it has all sorts of checks and balances. Every Secretary of State who is a member of the Cabinet has powers that he or she chooses not to exercise because certain decisions would not be acceptable to their ministerial colleagues, the Cabinet, Parliament or the public. Nevertheless, they have those powers. They do not exercise them because we live in a democratic and accountable system. To prove a point, the hon. Gentleman is using extreme examples that could never happen, even in the unlikely circumstance of there being a Conservative Government.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point that those powers could never be exercised, but we are giving away such a power. He will recall that my late noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone described this country as an elected dictatorship.
The hon. Gentleman says that he was wrong and the Minister says that that was under us, rather than under his party. It does not matter under which party the country is an elected dictatorship. What matters is that it may be such a dictatorship unless this House limits the power of the dictators. I do not mean that inappropriately, but if it is an elected dictatorship, those who are elected—Ministers and the Government—are dictators.
Order. I am enjoying the exchanges that are taking place and some might find them mentally nourishing, although I doubt it. Can we focus our attention on the amendments?
Indeed. I shall try to limit my historical allusions and return to the amendment. [Interruption.] My hysterical allusions, which are, none the less, historical.
I am asking the Minister to justify the powers that are given under the section, not the extreme flights of fancy that I have indulged in. Why should he require the power to determine the process used to determine what payments are made? Why should he require the power to determine, for example, the terms and conditions of employment of staff of the Big Lottery Fund? Why should he require the power to determine where the Big Lottery Fund should situate its premises?
If the Minister listed the powers that he does not intend to exercise, or which he has not thought of exercising, and tells me that I am wrong, that is fine. We shall amend the Bill to take account of his promises. However, he has made a promise that the Bill does not extend the Minister’s power. The Bill does extend the Minister’s power; let us meet his promise by amending the Bill accordingly.
As you say, Mr. Cook, it has been a scintillating debate so far. Whether it has moved forward the good governance of the nation, I do not know, but time will judge. First of all, I say to the hon. Member for East Devon that I have not read Hansard but I shall do so before this afternoon. If not, I shall get back to the hon. Gentleman on the point he made.
The allegation that we do not take the arguments seriously is wrong. After the previous sitting, I gathered my officials together and we went through the arguments about 60 per cent. and 70 per cent., whether there could be any movement on them, and what the arguments were. We came to the conclusion that the case was not made to a degree that the provision should be included in the Bill. My officials are present, but obviously cannot speak, but I can assure the Committee that the discussion took place to ensure that we got the provisions right. Hon. Members might not like the answers, but I take away the Committee’s arguments and examine them against the rationale behind the provisions in the Bill. I have come to the same conclusion as before, and we shall not include those arguments in the Bill.
I look forward to the Minister quoting this afternoon from Hansard about where I impugned on the reputations that we discussed this morning. In our earlier deliberations, I think that he agreed to write to me and to the hon. Member for Bath about various points; in my case, concerning the Isle of Man and other points. I have not yet received any correspondence from the Minister, so perhaps I could have that by this afternoon as well.
May I pick up the Minister on his second point? He says that after our deliberations he went through everything with his officials to see why 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. was not included in the Bill. They had a discussion, and his officials presumably convinced him that they should not include it in the Bill. Given the fact that he gave a clear commitment about that provision on the Floor of the House, and given that he is clearly uneasy about it, is this not a case in which the Minister should behave like a Minister and tell his officials what he wants?
Order. We are re-running Tuesday’s debate, which is out of order. Matters will take their course. The hon. Gentleman has made reference to the matter on two fairly lengthy occasions, and I have been very lenient till now. That ceases forthwith.
May I put on record that I have sent letters, dated 26 October, about the Isle of Man to the hon. Gentleman? I wrote to the hon. Member for Bath on 26 October about the estimates that were asked for. I sent letters on 26 October about the national lottery and the Big Lottery Fund consultations. I wrote to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), also on 26 October. I sent a letter about amendment No. 2 and the disclosure of information, and I wrote to the hon. Member for Bath about national lottery amendments and about clause 2 on the disclosure of information. They are all on record.
Whether the letters have come through in the post, I do not know. My staff attended to them immediately, and I signed them off. Whether the post is what it should be in the House of Commons, I do not know. There are copies, and before hon. Members leave this morning, they can take one. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Bath has received his. It would be naïve of me to try to explain how I have my officials consider how we interrogate aspects of clauses to ensure that we have them right. I shall not explain that in future, but I hope that those who read Hansard shall understand that we do—
Amendments Nos. 46 to 50, 52 and 73 are all concerned with the powers of direction over the Big Lottery Fund, set out in new section 36E inserted by clause 14 of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 46, 47, 50 and 52 would provide that the Big Lottery Fund must
“have regard to any guidance made” by the Secretary of State, instead of
“comply with any direction given to it”,
as currently provided.
All lottery distributors are required to comply with directions about financial and operational matters as set out in new section 36E(3). I see no reason why the Big Lottery Fund should be treated any differently. After all, it is vital that we can protect public money by ensuring that distributors comply with basic financial and operational good practice. I am sure that there will be no disagreement about that.
However, concern is perhaps centred more on the power in new section 36E(2) to issue policy directions. The powers have been drafted as they have in order to bring together in a coherent way the different regimes of control that existed in relation to the Big Lottery Fund’s predecessor bodies. The powers need to be set out in some detail; first, so that the Secretary of State can ensure the delivery of the themes, outcomes and priorities and, secondly, to make clear the matters on which the devolved Administrations have powers to direct the fund and those where it must be the Secretary of State.
I have already announced that we have adopted a light touch on the direction of the Big Lottery Fund. We have recently consulted publicly on interim directions for the New Opportunities Fund and the Community Fund. Those directions are, as far as possible under the existing legislation, the same as those that we will issue in due course to the Big Lottery Fund. We had 15 responses to the consultation and generally they were good.
That is fine, but the hon. Gentleman should stop jumping up and down every time I say a few words.
We are currently fully analysing the responses and will announce shortly whether any changes will be made to the directions in light of the consultation. We have also made illustrative directions, using the powers set out in the Bill, which are available to the Committee. Both the interim and illustrative directions are very different from the type of directions issued to NOF. That is an area that concerned hon. Members. The directions provide the means by which the funding outcomes and priorities agreed with the Government, and supported in the Big Lottery Fund’s consultation, will be delivered. However, they do not prescribe how they should be delivered or preclude other worthwhile priorities from being funded. I hope—it is probably a forlorn hope—that these directions will provide reassurance about how the powers of direction in the Bill will be exercised.
Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 allow the Secretary of State to “suggest” rather than “specify”, as currently drafted, persons to whom and purposes for which the Big Lottery Fund may or may not make grants. I suspect that the amendments have been prompted by the concern that the Secretary of State will be overly prescriptive in issuing directions. I know that there is particular concern that the power in new section 36E(2)(a) could be used to intervene in cases involving individual grants or to choose between voluntary organisations. I can give a categorical assurance that that is not the intention. The purpose of new section 36E(2)(a) is to enable Ministers to specify particular outcomes and priorities for the Big Lottery Fund related to specific groups of people, such as young people, as we have done in the interim and illustrative directions. The same powers already exist for NOF and have only ever been used positively, for example in specifying the Young People’s Fund.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight has, as he suggested, given some rather outlandish examples. Any Secretary of State must comply with the principles of public order and act reasonably when interpreting an Act. If they do not, they would be wide of the Act. There are broad safeguards relating to the interpretation of any Act and the actions of any Secretary of State in any Government.
I am sorry that the Minister is feeling a little prickly this morning, for some reason or other, but he has clearly now made enough progress to allow interventions. In the light of what he has said, is it or is it not the case that, in respect of the Community Fund, the Secretary of State is currently able to give directions that may, in particular
“specify persons to whom the Fund may or may not make grants or loans”?
So, the Minister is saying that this is a new power in relation to—[Interruption.] The Minister is saying from a sedentary position that the power applies in respect of NOF, which I entirely accept. My question was about the other component, the Community Fund. The Minister has now confirmed that the power does not exist in relation to the Community Fund. Can he explain precisely what he meant on 24 October when he told the hon. Member for East Devon:
“Through the Bill, we are taking no more powers than existed under NOF or the Community Fund, and we will debate those in Committee.”—[Official Report, 24 October 2005; Vol. 438, c. 7.]
Did those powers exist under the Community Fund? The Minister says no, but he is now taking additional powers and what he said in the House was wrong.
That is an interpretation of what I said. We are combining NOF with the Community Fund and the Millennium Commission in the Big Lottery Fund, and we are taking no more powers than already exist under NOF. I have tried to explain that in the light of the Government’s consultations on the operation of this part of the fund, we believe that it is right to go for the themes and not interference in the delivery. Some people were concerned about interference in NOF’s operations.
From the consultation three themes emerged as being what the public wanted. As I have said clearly, the operation of those themes and how they are delivered will be a matter for the Big Lottery Fund. That is where it is significantly different. I have laid it down, as Hansard will show, and will continue to repeat that that is the broad principle and the direction in which the Government want to go. Those are the powers that are being given to the Secretary of State and that is how they will be used. In the broader context, they will be used by any Secretary of State in a reasonable way.
I am most grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene. With your indulgence, Mr. Cook, I am afraid that his instruction for me to sit down and not intervene is a direction with which I shall not comply.
The hon. Member for Bath has said pretty much what I was going to say and as a result of what he said, the Minister’s position is becoming untenable. For the record, if the Bill passes into law unamended, will the Secretary of State end up with more power than she currently has to direct lottery money? Is it not the case—the hon. Gentleman pressed the Minister on this—that the Community Fund, which is being merged with NOF to make the Big Lottery Fund, was not subject to those powers? Should the Minister not withdraw what he said about taking on additional powers because, clearly, that is the opposite of what is the case? He should clarify his position.
As I said, not the Community Fund.
I have given a very clear answer to the hon. Member for Bath. My intention and the interpretation of what I said on the Floor of the House is that we are taking no more powers than were already within one of those three—[Interruption.] I can tell the hon. Member for Bath what was in my mind, but I do not know what was in his mind.
We have brought together three funding bodies. We have looked at their powers and said that the powers in the Bill will enable the Secretary of State to achieve what we believe the British public want; 127 local authorities responded to the consultation. We are not talking about the direction of the operation; the themes will be directed by the Secretary of State. I acknowledge that that is a move from the operation by NOF. We have learned from that. The lottery is evolving and we are moving it forward in terms of its expenditure and responding to the public need—we shall come to that later—in terms of wider participation in deciding how to dispense lottery funds.
I want to make it very clear. Yes, we have brought together the powers of NOF, the Community Fund and the Millennium Commission in the Bill and given the Secretary of State the power to ensure that the themes that were emerged during the consultation can be implemented. We believe that that is exactly what the British public want.
If we were to accept what the Minister says—perhaps we do—would he table an amendment that restricts the powers to direct funding to particular organisations rather than setting the overall themes? If the intention was not to increase those powers, but simply to carry out a tidying-up exercise, why not table an amendment to deal with this issue?
The hon. Gentleman will learn that from time to time, when legislation is put on to the statute book, the explanation of how the Government believe the powers should be carried out is equally important. I clearly put on the record an explanation of the intention of the Secretary of State. I have explained how we believe those powers will be used.
We do not believe that we need to amend the Bill any further. We believe that the powers given under the Bill will allow us to carry out the wishes of the British public sector in the consultation. I have explained why we need those powers. I have said clearly that they will deal with the setting of the themes, not the day-to-day operation of the Big Lottery Fund.
I wanted to intervene a little earlier, and I am sorry that the Minister was unable to allow me to do so. I now have the opportunity to make rather more lengthy remarks than I would have done had I intervened.
The Minister has not answered the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) at all satisfactorily. When the courts consider the interpretation of legislation they examine commitments given in the House by Ministers. That is one indicator of the meaning of legislation where it is in doubt. It is not open to the courts to substitute a commitment given by the Minister for the words in the legislation. A commitment given by the Minister applies only to the Minister giving the commitment, and certainly only applies to the Government under which that commitment is given. Following a change of Government, no one could possibly say that a new Minister is bound by commitments given by the previous Government.
Mr. Harrisindicated assent.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris) agrees with me.
The Minister is giving a future Government the power to do all the things he says he does not want done. He says that he wants outcomes, not people. Subsection (2)(a) of new section 36E is specifically about people, not outcomes. He says he wants themes, not deliverers. Subsection (2)(a) of new section 36E is specifically about deliverers, not themes. He says that he wants to control “not the operation, but the themes”. I quote his words exactly; I wrote them down. Subsection (2)(c) does not concern the themes but
“the process used to determine what payments to make”.
The Minister has not answered any of my earlier questions. I assume he thought that they were all flights of fancy, but they were not. Does he intend that any Minister in the future—not him, the Secretary of State nor this Government—should be entitled under subsection (2)(d) of proposed section 36E to set the terms and conditions of employment of all bodies that receive grants from the Big Lottery Fund? That power is within the new section. Those are reasonable questions to ask and the Minister should answer them.
I will do my best to answer those questions. As I said a little earlier on the question of carrying out powers, the Secretary of State must act reasonably and within public law. That is the whole context in which a Secretary of State must operate. When the hon. Gentleman reflects on his earlier fanciful flight, he will realise that what he talked about is clearly outside of anything a Secretary of State acting reasonably would do.
As I said earlier, the issue of financing is no different than with any other distributor. We have to consider the powers in terms of the financial side of things, although there is an argument on the policy side. The hon. Gentleman has strayed into this area of finance, but there is no difference regarding how we control public finances and accountability; the accounting officer of the Big Lottery Fund will be accountable to this place through parliamentary scrutiny. Nobody will argue about that.
On policy, we consulted widely with major bodies, including 127 local authorities, whose letters will show the number of people represented; quite a lot. We responded to the consultation, saying that in bringing together the three bodies—the New Opportunities Fund, the Community Fund, and the Millennium Commission—we believed that it was right to carry those themes through. The powers in the Bill are to carry those themes through. That is a clear commitment. That is the way in which Secretaries of State will act, and is in the best interests of the lottery and of good governance.
I apologise for straying from the path that I was meant to be on. The Minister, through his irritability, gives the impression that he would rather be somewhere else and not having to be taken through this Bill clause by clause. While I would never accuse the Minister, personally, of arrogance—heaven portend—the attitude of not wanting to have any kind of dialogue or opposition, and of almost regarding the Opposition as a flea on the back of an elephant’s behind, is indicative of a certain arrogance that has crept into the behaviour of an over-mighty Government. It is the Opposition’s duty to intervene on the Minister, to call him to account, and to ask him to explain how the group of amendments came about and the thinking behind them.
Order. We seem to be absorbing far too much time on the question of intervention. Let me make the rule as clear as I can; an intervention is only permitted when the hon. Member holding the Floor indicates that it is permissible. That is the rule as I understand it and the rule that will be applied. Can we leave that to one side and get on with the business at hand?
Indeed, Mr. Cook. That is absolutely right.
The Minister keeps referring to the consultation, in which there were, I believe, 800 respondees, 120 of which were local authorities. There is a letter, which I have not seen—I apologise if my office has received it—concerning the amount of people whom those local authorities represent. I am merely one voice, but there are others—six, I think—on this side, and we probably each represent about 80,000 people. I imagine that if we were to poll our constituents, we would have some pretty interesting news for the Minister.
The whole argument is about whether we are prepared to allow the Bill to go through, and to vest with the Secretary of State a power that might mean that the lottery fund has to comply with any direction given by the Secretary of State. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight was absolutely right when he talked about the law of unintended consequence. The fact that we are enshrining a Bill into the law of the country means that it must be watertight and, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion. The Minister saying that something is not the Secretary of State’s intention is not good enough. It may not be this Secretary of State’s intention, but that does not mean that her successor will not try to use the legislation, if the power is unamended, to do the things that we fear.