With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 66, in clause 15, page 9, line 27, at end insert—
‘(1A)The Secretary of State may make different orders for different bodies or appoint different days under subsection (1).’.
No. 67, in clause 15, page 9, line 27, at end insert—
‘(1A)An order under subsection (1) shall maintain funding for commitments made by the bodies referred to in subsection (1) prior to their ceasing to exist.’.
No. 68, in clause 15, page 9, line 33, at end insert ‘and’.
No. 69, in clause 15, page 9, line 34, leave out
‘if it contains provision amending an enactment,’.
No. 70, in clause 15, page 9, line 36, leave out from ‘Parliament’ to end of line 38.
No. 102, in clause 16, page 9, line 42, leave out second ‘the’ and insert
‘, in relation to any old lottery distributor, a’.
The amendments relate to clause 15, which deals with the dissolution of the old lottery distributors and the transfer of property. Clause 15 allows the Secretary of State by order to appoint a day on which the Community Fund, the Millennium Commission and the New Opportunities Fund will cease to exist. Such an order may include consequential, incidental or transitional provisions and unless it amends other primary legislation, it is subject to the negative procedure. Government amendment No. 10 clarifies that the Secretary of State will be able under clause 15 to appoint different dates on which the three Lottery distributors will cease to exist if required. The amendment will allow a greater degree of flexibility in deciding when to dissolve the existing distributors, allowing a seamless operational transition to the establishment of the Big Lottery Fund.
I commend the hon. Member for East Devon on amendment No. 66, which would serve much the same purpose as the Government amendment. Amendment No. 102, tabled by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, would also make it clear that the existing distributors can be dissolved on separate days. I assure them that Government amendment No. 10 adequately deals with that point and makes amendments Nos. 66 and 102 unnecessary.
Amendment No. 67 would insert new words into subsection (1) of clause 15 to maintain funding for commitments made by the three named distributors prior to their dissolution. The amendment is unnecessary as provision is already made for that. Clause 16 provides that all the existing liabilities of the three distributors, including any funding commitments made prior to dissolution, are transferred to the Big Lottery Fund.
Amendment No. 69 would amend clause 15(3) so that the dissolution order would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and would therefore have to be debated in both Houses. We believe that this is completely unnecessary and would risk delaying the transition unnecessary and would risk delaying the transition Big Lottery Fund. The merits of whether these bodies should be dissolved and replaced by the Big Lottery Fund aside, the dissolution order is simply a necessary technical requirement to ensure a seamless transition.
The affirmative procedure will apply if the order contains consequential provision that amends other primary legislation in line with the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I hope that, in the light of what I have said, hon. Members will not press their amendments.
I think that we may at last have found some common ground in relation to Government amendment No. 10 and our amendment No. 66. It seemed to us odd that the Secretary of State would decide to dissolve three large non-departmental public bodies on a single day—that would be a sort of nuclear explosion. Both amendments would allow for a variation in timing, which is probably right.
That is less important than our desire to amend the process by which the distributors are changed. Our amendments Nos. 68 to 70 require that the order to dissolve lottery distributors be made under the affirmative, rather than the negative, procedure. Given the delays in the Bill, the number of statutory instruments that have been needed to keep the New Opportunities Fund and the Community Fund going, the fact that we still have no date for Third Reading and Report, and the absence of a properly established Big Lottery Fund, we felt it appropriate to ensure that the House would be satisfied that it was the correct time to dissolve a lottery distributor. After all, the current distributors were established after much discussion, debate and examination in the House and it seems only proper for them to be dissolved in that way.
Our amendment No. 67 is intended to ensure that all existing commitments have security of funding in the event of lottery distributors being dissolved. The hon. Member for Bath has already referred to his rather strange exchange with the Minister last Thursday afternoon. In the debate about the ongoing commitments of the distributors when the funding was transferred, the Minister contradicted himself. Referring to the amendment we had tabled, he said:
“In any case, the amendment is unnecessary as the reallocation powers apply only to balances and not to commitments made by a lottery distributor.”
When pressed by the hon. Member for Bath, he continued:
“I am talking about the expenditure and the commitments that go with it.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 27 October 2005; c. 147.]
That was a fascinating diversion from what we had originally debated and what the Opposition understood to be the case. When the Big Lottery Fund is finally up and running and is not just operating in the shadows, we must ensure that no charities that are receiving money from the Community Fund suddenly find that their funds are being diverted elsewhere. I am sure that will not happen and that it is not intended to happen, but I am equally sure that the Minister will agree that the amendment will ensure that it does not happen. In any event, I hope that he will give an assurance in his reply that all existing commitments will be met either by the distributors that are about to be dissolved or by the Big Lottery Fund.
By way of explanation, I wrote to the hon. Gentleman on 30 October. I have no doubt that he has a copy of the letter, which states:
“Most commitments are legally binding agreements between the distributor and the grant recipient and the new section 29A inserted by the Bill would not allow us to transfer those commitments which would still have to be legally honoured by the distributor. That is why I have underlined the need to ensure that commitments are fully taken into account when deciding if and how to exercise the transfer power.”
That is the explanation. If there is any dubiety about this, we will try to clear it up. This is not a question of semantics—we are not trying to be smart. The provision is about trying to bring some discipline to the ordering of the lottery and about using the funds properly so that they are there for the good causes. If hon. Members want to make that a debating point, fine—I can debate as well as the next person. However, I am trying to make things clear for people up and down the country who are running schemes. If there is any difference, I will try to clear it up. We can have debating points, but the people out there who are running such schemes need that assurance. We will bring some discipline to the expenditure and to the balances.
I am grateful to the Minister for what he just said. I hope that he accepts that there is a need to clarify the point. He has now said on the record that the balances will transfer without the commitments, he has also said on the record that the balances will transfer with the commitments and now he has just told us that we could have a situation in which the balances will transfer with some of the commitments, but not all of them. We have three different scenarios. I accept that the Minister says all that in good faith, but, as he just acknowledged, the issue needs to be sorted out. I hope that we can get together and find a solution with which everybody is happy, and raise the issue at a later stage of the Bill.
I am prepared to do that, and I shall try to ensure that a definitive position is provided on that point. Even though there may be grey areas, I shall ensure that it is done not just for the Committee—which is important—but for those people who could be affected by the provision. I hope that they will not, because I hope that the balances will come down due to the disciplining of the distributors. If they act in that way, there will be no need to take action. I shall ensure that we respond to the hon. Member for Bath, and that a definitive position is taken.
It is an intervention, Mr. Cook.
I am most grateful to the Minister. I have not received his letter—again, I am afraid. This point requires clarification, as it is seminal. The Minister has given three different answers, as the hon. Member for Bath said. It is absolutely critical that not only the Committee but those people outside this place who could be affected know what is being discussed and whether the Minister’s word is as good as what he says in Hansard. I welcome his attempts finally to clarify what he was attempting to say. It caused great anxiety to his civil servants at the time.