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12.58 am

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): As the Secretary of State says, the effect of the order is to hand over to the Government's new opportunities fund one third of all the national lottery distribution fund from 20 August next year. Although I shall voice concern about the order, I should state at the outset that the Conservatives do not begrudge any of the beneficiaries of the new opportunities fund the money that they have received. Indeed, if after-school projects in my constituency had received the £92,000 that the new opportunities fund has bestowed in Islington, South and Finsbury, instead of nothing, I should be the first to congratulate them. If good causes can be ranked, there is no doubt that most people would rank cancer research above bailing out the dome.

We are not against funding cancer research, out-of-school activities or environmental projects, and we applaud the fact that the original lottery distributors have already done much in each of these areas. However, we have deep reservations about the new opportunities fund, and we cannot support awarding the fund a third of all the national lottery money. I emphasise again that that is not because we do not care about the projects that the new opportunities fund supports. It is because we do not believe that it is right that the Government should take so direct a hand in the award of lottery money.

Mr. Chris Smith: I am intrigued as to where the argument is leading the hon. Gentleman. He says that he supports the beneficiaries of new opportunities fund money, but he does not will the means to provide that money to them. Does he support new opportunities fund money going to good causes in health, education and the environment, or not?

Mr. Ainsworth: If the Secretary of State is patient, he will find out.

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It has been said that the

Those were the words of the Minister for Sport, who happens also to have responsibilities for the lottery. It is always pleasant to see the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting in the Chamber, and perhaps she will explain why the responsible Minister is not present for this important debate about the future of the national lottery. The Minister for Sport said that the lottery was not to be used by the Government to provide extra funding.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), to whom we owe the existence of the national lottery, recently wrote:

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As a result of his introduction of the lottery, many thousands of good causes have benefited. The lottery has been an enormous success and immensely popular. It was established to provide additional funding to areas of life--sport, charities, the historic environment and the arts--that have always tended to be, and probably will always tend to be, at the back of the queue for Exchequer funding.

The creation of the new opportunities fund has already taken money away from the original good causes, the original lottery beneficiaries, which are under growing pressure to meet demand. As the joint lottery distributors made clear in a recent submission to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, they are already receiving far more applications for lottery funding than they can possibly support. For example, the National Lottery Charities Board can provide only £1 for every £6 requested.

Since the general election, the Arts Council of England and Sport England have each found themselves with respectively £97 million and £96 million less lottery money to distribute. That is in part a direct consequence of the creation of the new opportunities fund. A similar reduction has taken place at the National Lottery Charities Board and the heritage lottery fund. We know also--it has been recognised on both sides of the House--that charities especially have suffered an impact from the national lottery, and it seems particularly unfair that they should not receive the share of the lottery distribution fund which was originally envisaged for them.

The new opportunities fund is robbing Peter to pay Paul, where Peter is independent of government and Paul is an agent of government. We believe that if lottery money is to be truly additional to core government spending, it should be independently administered. The order will expand the role of government and extend patronage where we believe that it should be reduced. The introduction of the new opportunities fund has added new bureaucracy to the administration of lottery funds and further needless complications.

There is considerable overlap between the activities of the new opportunities fund and the activities of other lottery distributors. That is perhaps most visible in sport, but it also applies to the charities and heritage funds which have supported worthwhile schemes in health care, the environment and out-of-school activities. When the Government reviewed their policy on the lottery, it would

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have been possible to expand support for those causes without creating a new Government machine to control the process.

The establishment of the new opportunities fund had less to do with the causes that it supports than with the Government's desire to expand and to exercise control. We do not approve of that in principle and, given the record of the Secretary of State on the dome, Wembley and the national lottery licence award, we do not approve of it in practice, either.

The order effectively extends the hand of the Treasury into one third of the lottery. It reduces independence in the distribution of lottery funds and it expands the role of the state. I therefore ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to join me in opposing it.

Mr. Chris Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman now answer the question that I posed earlier and which he singularly failed to answer in the course of his remarks? Would he scrap the new opportunities fund and thereby deprive its beneficiaries of the funds that they receive, if he got into government?

Mr. Ainsworth: The right hon. Gentleman clearly has not been listening carefully enough to my remarks; nor have I quite concluded them.

When I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to join me in opposing the measure, I anticipate that the Government's spin doctors will, as usual, be hard at work saying that that is an example of heartless Tories being cruel to sick children. Nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could be more despicable than using the case of vulnerable children for party political advantage. Nothing that I have said tonight can justify such a view. Still less would it justify the cynical exploitation of the vulnerable.

A Conservative Government would honour all the new opportunities fund's existing commitments and reform the way in which the lottery works to make is less bureaucratic, more independent of Government and more responsive to the aspirations of communities and the needs of vulnerable people throughout the country. The order is symptomatic of a Government who are greedy for the public's money and paranoid about trusting anyone or anything that they cannot control.

1.7 am

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): I take as my text tonight the words of the Prime Minister, who stated:

Those words have been quoted by the Government on a number of occasions, but seem wholly inconsistent with the intention set out in the order.

The Secretary of State is aware that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I do not believe that the new opportunities fund should have been established in the way it was, or that it should be re-financed as the Government propose. We do not believe that it should have a third of the total lottery funds.

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Mr. Ainsworth: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Is it not the case that had he had his way, there would have been no national lottery at all?

Mr. Maclennan: That is true, and I have repeated it a number of times on the Floor of the House. I am conscious of the regressive nature of the lottery, and I observe that some of the poorest people in the country contribute to it, often evidently unable to afford it and with little prospect of any direct return.

The lottery was established by the previous Government and supported by the present Government, and is clearly here to stay. I am not about to spit in the wind on that issue of principle, but I do not regard the new opportunities fund as an appropriate use of the resources. If the Secretary of State starts to invoke arguments about where public opinion lies, that suggests that even the money that is retained for the four original causes will be at risk. I doubt whether those people who have been consulted in the manner that he described will have a different view about what is being spent on the arts or sport.

Mr. Chris Smith: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we have given a guarantee to the four existing distributors for the arts, sport, heritage and charities that, at the very least, they will continue to receive their current share of the lottery for the duration of its next franchise.

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