(i)the Secretary of State,
(ii)bodies (other than public or local authorities) whose activities are carried on not for profit,
(iii)the National Assembly for Wales in relation to Welsh devolved expenditure,
(iv)the Scottish Ministers in relation to Scottish devolved expenditure, and
(v)the Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in relation to Northern Ireland devolved expenditure;
(b)may consult any other person;
(c)may take account of opinions expressed to it or information submitted to it.’.
I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Gale. The amendment would include in the clause a requirement for distributing bodies to consult in determining how to distribute the money. The Bill enables them to consult, but it does not require them to do so. That distinction is important. The bodies that I believe should be consulted include the Secretary of State, voluntary organisations and the relevant devolved bodies.
It is important that there should be a requirement to consult partly because the record on consultation so far has been far from good. The report in 2004 from the NCVO’s compact advocacy programme concluded that the DCMS had a consultation credibility deficit. It also found that there tended not to be enough time for responses to consultation, decisions were sometimes issued during consultation periods and that responses to consultations had not always been published.
It is not just the NCVO that thinks consultation could and should be improved. Committee members will have received a briefing from the National Campaign for the Arts, which has also called for better consultation of the not-for-profit sector regarding lottery distribution. Why is consultation important? The issue of Peruvian guinea pig farmers has already been mentioned and I remember the other media headlines, which had an unfortunate effect on the reputation of the lottery. It is important for distributing bodies to ensure that they consult when determining priorities for spending. An important aspect of that is making sure that they consult the public, and there are definitely helpful moves in that direction. It is also important that consultant bodies with specialist knowledge feed into the process.
Project funding can often be complex by its very nature. We should ensure that the relevant expertise is available so that the public consultation is informed. For example, consider the Manchester Victoria baths, which won the BBC’s “Restoration” series in 2003. The baths are still way off completion and last year it emerged that the project had been seriously undercosted. The baths will need an extra £2.5 million—over and beyond the £3.5 million initially bid for—if the project is to be completed. That shows the importance of having proper consultation with bodies that can bring expertise to decision making.
In its briefing statement, the NCVO stated:
“We support greater public involvement in the Lottery, but this should not be in lieu of appropriate consultation, including with the voluntary and community sector.”
As well as increasing public participation, we need to ensure that relevant bodies in the devolved Administrations and the voluntary sector and the Secretary of State are consulted. That is not to say that public consultation is not important. In fact, Big Lottery Fund research has found that nine out of 10 lottery players think that it is important that the general public be involved in deciding where lottery funding goes. Earlier this week, the hon. Member for East Devon and I had the good fortune to be at the conference of the Museums Association. Its representative, Judy Aitken, put it very well in the Museums Journal of August 2005:
“The killer fact is that lottery money is not public or government money. It belongs to those who play the lottery and they should be more involved in decision making and more aware of how money is spent.”
Unfortunately, public awareness of how lottery money is spent is low. Last year, a poll for ICM suggested that the public believed that the same amount of lottery money went to help asylum seekers as to support disabled people. In fact, funding for disabled people from the lottery is nearly 10 times greater than funding for asylum seekers. That illustrates the problem with public perception, which, as we are all aware, can be led by unhelpful headlines and scaremongering. Public participation should be about making informed decisions.
I am keen that the Minister should give an assurance that distributing bodies will be required to ensure that the people involved in the consultations are informed about the decisions that they are asked to make. [Interruption.] I hope that the Minister will respond to that point, even if he is having his own deliberations over there at the moment.
With public participation, it is important to ensure that it is not only popular projects that receive money. Smaller projects and organisations that might cater for specific needs—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr. Gale. It is important that the lottery can fund projects that are not the most popular or sexy, and that do not capture the headlines. There can be a danger, when involving the public more, that main, popular causes will always win. I spoke earlier about the BBC’s “Restoration” programme, which many people watched and enjoyed. That programme meant that many projects that are not often put in the spotlight were put in the spotlight. Manchester Victoria baths won that series in 2003, but would it have won if it was up against other reality TV programme stars of 2003, such as Natasha Kaplinsky in “Strictly Come Dancing”, or Peter André and Jordan in “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here”? That illustrates the importance of ensuring that popular projects are not funded at the expense of others.
I hope that the Minister agrees that the Big Lottery Fund should make a commitment that the projects on which the public will vote aim to achieve similar things, and that the public will not be asked to choose between projects between which there is a large imbalance in popularity. I hope that he agrees that all distributing bodies should make a similar commitment.
We support the amendment. It is important that the BLF should be consulted about where the money goes, particularly in light of its commitment to the voluntary sector for 60 to 70 per cent. of funding. Interestingly, the Government are being a little inconsistent: they want distributors to consult on the distribution of funds, but they will not agree to our amendment No. 28 to clause 7, which would require the Secretary of State to consult the voluntary sector before making directions to the BLF. There is an example of inconsistency on which to end the day, if you so choose, Mr. Gale.
Order. Before we proceed, let me make it absolutely plain. It is not up to the Chairman when we end the day. The Chairman has the right to suspend the sitting. This Chairman is prepared to sit all night if the Committee wishes to do so, but I get the feeling that it does not. It is up to the Committee to decide how it conducts its business—what point it wishes to reach, and at what point it will cease to try to reach it. I am desperately trying to encourage the usual channels to facilitate an agreement.
Before I begin my remarks, Mr. Gale, I must say that I am not aware whether you said that you would adjourn at half-past or at the end of our deliberations on this clause.
I am concerned about the amendment—not the content, but the context. There is no doubt that the content is absolutely sensible, fair and right, but I am concerned about some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) in introducing it.
My concern is about what consultation is and what constitutes a successful consultation. The numbers responding to the consultations that the Minister referred to so far have, as I said in an earlier debate, been pretty small. For example, we heard today that another consultation by the Department for Education and Skills, among young people, received 4,000 responses nationally in comparison to which the responses on the objectives of the Big Lottery Fund pale into insignificance.
I hope that the Minister will understand, and give some commitment to, the fact that a way has to be found of getting real people to respond to consultations; it should not merely be those who are paid to do so—those who work for one of 127 local authorities—or those who are probably paid not very well or not at all but who have a close association with one of the prospective beneficiaries of the lottery money distribution funds.
Is it not time that a real effort was made by the Government to get responses from ordinary voters? We all know that none of us would be re-elected—the Minister for Sport and Tourism, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) might, so perhaps I should say that most of us would not be re-elected—unless we made a real attempt to engage with real electors at local level. I hope that we can have a promise to look more carefully at how these consultations will take place, so that they engage and include real people.
My criticism of the hon. Lady’s speech on the amendment was the number of times she referred to real people as though they had to be educated to give the right answer before those who were undertaking the consultation should take any notice of it. She said that she wanted the consulting organisation to ensure that the people involved were enabled to make “informed decisions”. She wanted to be sure that
“it is not only popular projects that receive money”.
She said that
“there can be a danger, when involving the public more, that main, popular causes will always win.”
I am sure that the hon. Lady would not regard this as a disparaging remark, but she is, in fact, a typical Liberal Democrat, who believes that the public is right when they say what the Liberal Democrats want them to say. Her hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said on Second Reading that:
“we need to be careful when we talk about public involvement in decisions. I certainly welcome the Big Lottery Fund’s statement, in which it pointed out that when the public are involved, they will not be
‘asked to choose between projects where there is a large imbalance in their levels of popularity.’—[Official Report, 14 June 2005; Vol. 435, c 186.]
That is contempt for the public and their views. It is not public consultation. That quote illustrates that perfectly, and I have many more from the Liberal Democrats, which I will not use. I hope that the Minister does not share that contempt for the public, and I am sure that he does not. I hope that in accepting or in rejecting the amendment he will undertake to ensure that real people—those who play the lottery—are closely involved and engaged in how the lottery money is spent. I do not happen to believe that that is why they play it; like my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire), I believe that they play for a combination of a meagre expectation of winning and a good deal of enjoyment. The public deserve to be consulted better than they have been until now.
I think that this debate is covering clause 11, because, again, we have gone to great lengths to ensure that we will engage the public. I have no doubt that when we come to discuss that clause I will be able answer more fully the comments made by the hon. Lady and by the hon. Gentleman. The general public get it wrong from time to time. On the “Restoration” programme they did not vote for Sheffield manor lodge, known as the castle, in my constituency, and Manchester got the money. That goes to show that occasionally, they get it wrong, although we probably did not put enough votes in.
The amendment would insert a requirement that before making any distribution decision lottery distributors would have to consult the Secretary of State, not-for-profit bodies and, where appropriate, the relevant devolved Administration. That would impose a new layer of control on lottery distributors and would go against the principle that I have been trying to put forward that makes their funding decisions independent of Government. We lay down the policy, but they make the decisions independently, and the amendment seeks more powers over them. It would also serve to increase the time taken for distributors to make grants. That would militate against bringing the balances down. It is not something we want to see.
The measures in the Bill are designed to help lottery money go more quickly and efficiently to good cause projects and to reduce unspent balances. Distributors already consult widely and, where appropriate, that includes in the voluntary and community sector. We already have policy directions to set the overall framework and, where relevant, devolved Administrations issue them with the agreement of the Secretary of State. Distributors also set out their distribution policies in their annual reports and other documents.
Should we need more information, section 25C of the National Lottery etc. Act 1993 already allows us to require strategic plans from distributors if appropriate. Distributors are required to consult before adopting strategic plans and the Secretary of State is required to lay any such plans before Parliament. For these reasons, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw her amendment.
The issues are important. The amendment refers in particular to the voluntary sector organisations and governing bodies that are to be consulted, which is why my remarks were in that vein. I did not mean to show contempt in any way towards the public. The consultation with the public will be dealt with in other parts of the Bill, and I think that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight expressed an unfair characterisation of my comments and sentiments. I believe that the amendment gets it right, because it asks for a consultation with the Secretary of State and various bodies rather than direction or prescription, which is what we see in other clauses. That is the vein in which we should ensure that the relationship works, but on the basis that the Minister will consider the issues in future, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.