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House of Commons

Friday 23 March 2001

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Orders of the Day

National Lottery (Amendment) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I heard on my wireless this morning references to a statement in the House by the Deputy Prime Minister about the Marchioness tragedy. It was obvious that a number of people expected the matter to be brought to the House, and revealed to the House. Can you give us any indication, Mr. Speaker, of whether you have been asked to make provision for a statement by a Minister? It would be helpful to know that at this stage.

Mr. Speaker: There will be a statement at 11 am.

Let us now return to the National Lottery (Amendment) Bill.

9.34 am

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill seeks to give the National Lotteries Charities Board an additional power to consider and, indeed, award grants towards the endowment of charities under the National Lottery etc. Act 1993, as amended in 1998.

The board was established as a non-departmental public body. The Act specifies the share of the national lottery to be received, and regulates the appointment of committees for grant-making. It gives the Secretary of State power to give directions relating to the matters to be taken into account in grant-making, and the conditions on which the money is to be distributed. This, then, is a permissive power, and the board thus has an opportunity to make the grants. The provision raises policy issues, but they would be for the board to consider, both in principle and at the point at which one of its grant-making committees received an application for funds for endowment of a charity.

The Bill has the support of all party members in Norfolk, some of whom are present. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor), the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright). I also convey the apologies of the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) and the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior), who has supported a charity that I am about to mention to the extent of working his socks off to secure

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money for it. I pay tribute to him for that: he survived. I doubt whether he will survive a general election, however, as his seat is very vulnerable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) has supported the Bill as well, and others have shown great interest.

Let me begin by explaining how I came to be interested in the issue, and why I think that the 1993 Act needs to be adapted. With the support of the Eastern Daily Press, the "We Care" appeal 2000 was set up in Norfolk to endow the Norfolk millennium trust for carers. It aimed to raise £1 million in cash to establish the trust--which is registered as a charity--and enable it to become long-lasting, and to provide financial help for an estimated 130,000 unpaid carers in the county. Its purpose was to respond to the identified need of such carers. It sought to help with the purchase of equipment, and to improve the quality of life for carers.

I need not describe the emotional, financial and physical burden endured by carers, or the loneliness, frustration and sheer exhaustion involved.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the valuable work done by 6 million carers in this country, but does he think that £1 million would be sufficient? He will know of the economic difficulties now being encountered: the country is going rapidly from boom to bust. Would £1 million be enough to generate the same amount of income, given the likelihood of a fall in interest rates aimed at stimulating the economy during the period of bust?

Dr. Gibson: That is a reasonable question, but I think that the sums needed to change the lives of many carers are quite small. I believe that, as long as investments were made properly, with good investment policy and advice, the money generated by an endowment fund over a long period would be enough to deal with many problems.

Investments are not made only by charities, however. The Government also invest money to help carers, and there is a genuine partnership between different organisations. The money does not supplement, but goes along with, other sources of finance. I doubt that we shall ever have enough money to deal with all the problems of carers, but by gosh, the Bill would go a long way towards doing so.

At a meeting that I had with the General Medical Council this week, we had a long debate about the withholding of support and help for terminally ill patients. It was pointed out--surprisingly--that carers would have a crucial role in determining some of the matters that exercise the minds of members of the GMC and the British Medical Association. Carers see, in the front line, the support that they receive from the medical services. In a world in which people are becoming litigious, some of the evidence that they muster and the experience that they gain might be important to the fashioning of the changes that the GMC and the BMA realise are needed. The media have now taken up the issue as well. Carers play an essential role and we must ensure that they are recognised not only as individuals helping others who are having problems but as professionals.

With the help of the Eastern Daily Press, the public in Norfolk have responded magnificently. Many events have been held, such as jumble sales and, as I said, walks round

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the county of Norfolk. Hon. Members distinguished themselves--or did not distinguish themselves--at a concert entitled "Aristosquits". The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk told a lusty tale or two about his time in this place. I am really hoping that the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and I will be able to perform at a concert this June, when we shall sing,

I believe my hon. Friend is up for that, although we may have to adapt the words to reflect the political times. In short, many hon. Members have been involved in the concerts, where our enjoyment of inter-party discipline is magnificent.

As I said, some hon. Members in the Chamber have played prominent roles in the effort, and the money raised has been invested in an endowment fund. The money generated by that fund is given to carers. Yesterday's Eastern Daily Press carries the headline, "Justice for Jemima", with the "We Care" appeal symbol underneath. It states that

I am now doing just that.

Jemima Hutson received £100 from the Norfolk millennium trust for carers, which, as I said, was established with £500,000. With that money, she is buying a tumble dryer which, according to the article,

What reason could hon. Members have for entering politics other than to change things for people like Jemima? The support, help and interest in other humans shown by people like Jemima is amazing. If we can help such efforts by providing lottery money, we should do it.

Money is not being provided for every soft case that is presented; there are a fair number of rejections. A serious analysis is made of whether money will really help and support caring efforts. As I said, however, the sums required to change people's lives for the better are often quite small.

The charity has trustees who decide on grants. Paddy Seligman OBE is the appeal's chairman and was a leading light in Norfolk in establishing it. The other trustees are Barry Capon CBE, DL; John Alston CBE, DL, who is known to many hon. Members; Ann Mullender, from the charity Crossroads; and Dr. Jenny Blyth, a consultant in palliative care at the Priscilla Bacon lodge who looks after terminal cancer cases; Peter Furnivall, an eminent local solicitor who has helped me very much with the wording of my Bill; and Alastair Fish, a prominent local accountant. They provide a wide spectrum of excellence and professionalism in assessing applications, and they do a sterling job.

Letters have appeared in many publications describing the professionalism and work done by carers. However, I am sure that many hon. Members are already aware of that work from their surgeries and their daily work. I note

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that Mr. Speaker has also shown an interest in the functions performed and the role played by carers. The appeal is doing very prominent and important work.

The appeal is also working with other organisations. My Bill has received support from National Schizophrenia Fellowship; west Norfolk carers project; the Families' House organisation, in Norwich, which is concerned with the adoption of young people; and the Norfolk Eating Disorders Association. They represent a wide spectrum of good activities. The appeal committee takes no expenses, and administrative help has been provided free by Mills & Reeve, Norwich solicitors and by the Norfolk health authority. Additionally, the National Lottery Charities Board millennium festival has given £23,000 to cover the appeal's running costs.

I need not point out to right hon. and hon. Members that the number of carers is almost certain to increase, largely because of the increase in the elderly population. I should like to quote from a letter to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport from the Eastern Daily Press editor, Peter Franzen, who was fully supported by his deputy editor, James Ruddy--both of whom have worked day and night on publicity for the appeal in the Eastern Daily Press and on television in the East Anglian region. Peter Franzen writes:

I should like to set the appeal's aims against those of the National Lottery Charities Board. Page 1 of the recent annual report from the National Lottery Charities Board talks of

and of the fact that

The board has an impressive record, which I shall not cite in detail as it is described in the report for hon. Members to peruse at their leisure. In one year, it has provided £450 million to 11,347 charities and voluntary groups. That is an impressive record and highlights the fact that administering the board's functions must be an awesome feat. I congratulate it on its fine work.

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Page 36 of the annual report states:

There is obviously a case for the "We Care" appeal to be included among those organisations. The "We Care" appeal objective meets the stated funding criteria of the National Lottery Charities Board. The main grant programme criteria include the following statement:

The mission statement of the "We Care" appeal closely, if not exactly, fits those criteria. Its mission is to relieve the elderly, infirm, sick or disabled in Norfolk by providing financial aid and practical support to carers, either individually or through carers' groups.

It is not unprecedented for an endowment fund to be set up with major financial support from the national lottery. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport did just that when, in 1998, he revised the National Lottery etc. Act 1993, providing expanded powers and allowing the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts to be funded by a one-off pay-out of £200 million from the national lottery. That was the first endowment fund of its type to be supported in that manner. The fund derives an income of about £10 million from the trust, and, like NESTA, it was established with the objectives of supporting and promoting "talent, innovation and creativity" in those spheres.

The fund was conceived as an endowment because the Government decided that it should be different from established lottery distribution bodies--which rely on fixed shares of funds held within the national lottery distribution fund that are issued with policy directives on distribution determined by the Secretary of State.

NESTA trustees have considerable scope to establish strategy and policy for an organisation that can be innovative and bold, take risks, act with flair and adapt quickly if necessary. Having endowment status gives it a sense of continuity and freedom from rigid external interference. It can also look ahead. Surely with an increase in the elderly population, carers in the voluntary sector will also increase in number and continue to perform their excellent task for many years to come.

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