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12.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Kate Hoey): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on his success in introducing the Bill and in bringing together so many people from all parties to support it. It is pleasant to spend a Friday morning dealing with a Bill that has such support, which is especially strong among MPs with Norfolk constituencies. I know how much work my hon. Friend has put into the project and recognise that it means a great deal to him and other hon. Members from that region. I am also grateful for his interpretation of the legal difficulties with benevolent and philanthropic law. As I am not a lawyer, I am pleased that my hon. Friend gave a detailed and incisive explanation of the differences. If the Bill goes into Committee, his work will be useful.

The Bill has been inspired by the "We Care" 2000 appeal, launched by the Eastern Daily Press in October 1998 with the aim of raising £1 million to establish an endowment fund--the Norfolk millennium trust for carers. I commend the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in the campaign, especially the staff and readers of the Eastern Daily Press. There is a huge number of unpaid carers and we would surely all agree that they are unsung heros and heroines who merit our admiration and support. I was struck by the way in which

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my hon. Friend read out the article about his constituent, Jemima Hutson. That strongly conveyed the huge amount of work, effort and love that carers put in to what they do, and the attention that their work requires.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) gave a moving account of his constituents, Christine and Tanya. We all have constituents who fit that bill. Perhaps that is one reason why there is cross-party support for my hon. Friend's Bill.

I want to point out how much national lottery support is going into Norfolk and how much the lottery is doing across the country to help carers and other groups of volunteers. Although it is only six years old, it has had a tremendous impact on our national life and is one of the most successful lotteries in the world. More than £8.8 billion has already been awarded to more than 82,000 projects across the country. The National Lottery Charities Board has made more than 40,000 grants, worth nearly £1.9 billion, to help meet the needs of those at greatest disadvantage in society and to improve the quality of life in our communities.

In Norfolk alone, the board has made nearly 500 grants, worth more than £19 million, to voluntary and community groups. They include a contribution of some £23,000, as has already been mentioned, towards the administrative costs of the "We Care" 2000 appeal. Across the United Kingdom, the board has already made grants worth more than £15 million to projects related to carers.

The current wording of the National Lottery etc. Act 1993 allows the National Lottery Charities Board to help fund expenditure by charities or similar organisations but not to contribute towards endowment funds. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), who apologised for having to leave before the end of the debate, asked if all the other distributors could do that. They can, which is why the situation is, in some senses, an anomaly.

The Government sympathise in principle with the changes proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), which would help to put the NLCB on the same footing as the other lottery distributors, enabling it to make grants towards endowments when it wished to do so. However, it is important to point out that the NLCB, in common with all the other lottery bodies, makes its own decisions on individual grants, independent of Government. Should the Bill become law, it would therefore still be up to the board to decide how to use this new power. That might answer one of the points made by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), although it is always very difficult to satisfy him completely.

The board would have a number of issues to consider carefully before deciding how to use the new power. An endowment must be of a considerable size to yield a reasonable annual income. Sometimes it is felt that lottery funds can provide greater benefits by directly supporting activities through specific, time-limited grants. In a way, the board would have the discretion to decide about that. Those running the "We Care" 2000 appeal clearly feel strongly that they could satisfy the National Lottery Charities Board if they were given the opportunity to do so. It is not really for us to be pedantic about whether the board would give an endowment grant to a particular charity, because such matters would have to be taken into account by the board. However, it does not seem sensible

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to me that one distributing body has different rules for a particular function and can do something if it thinks it right when another cannot.

Mr. Forth: Is there any appeal mechanism against decisions? The board could decide to put a very large amount of money indeed into an endowment--it would have to be large to yield any meaningful income--and a lot of other good causes would feel that they had been unreasonably and unfairly deprived of what they could otherwise have had. Do they have any appeal mechanism once the decision has been made and the money committed?

Kate Hoey: There is an appeal mechanism to the lottery distribution boards if a body or group does not get money. In the sports lottery distribution, for example, a number of groups make appeals and elicit the help of Members of Parliament in doing so. Much as it would be nice as a Minister to be able to decide where the money is to go, I am glad that we do not have to make that difficult decision. Through the powers that Parliament gives us, we appoint the members of these bodies, and we expect them to weigh things up and to realise the importance of their task.

Anyone who is against the Bill must say why the National Lottery Charities Board should be treated differently from the other lottery distributors under the current law.

Mr. MacGregor: I entirely agree that that is an anomaly. Does the Minister agree with me that if the £1 million target is achieved, about £50,000 a year--even at today's interest rates--is a significant sum for carers every year?

Kate Hoey: The right hon. Gentleman is right, it is a significant sum. The point about endowments is that they provide long-term benefit, sustainability and certainty. That is why they are an attractive mechanism for charities and other bodies.

The technical points will have to be dealt with in Committee. The Government recognise that the funding of endowments can be an appropriate use of lottery funds. We have already established the National Endowment for Science, Technology and Arts under the National Lottery Act 1998 as a national endowment with £200 million of lottery funds. NESTA was set up as an independent, permanent fund to support and promote talent, innovation and creativity. It has so far provided funding for innovations in a wide range of areas, and for talented individuals in areas as diverse as interactive technology, poetry, film-making and science centres.

In addition, the Millennium Commission is establishing a £100 million endowment fund to ensure a permanent future for its highly successful millennium awards scheme. The scheme helps individuals to undertake projects that fulfil a personal ambition while benefiting the wider community. By 2004, 40,000 people will have benefited from that scheme, and the endowment will ensure that it continues to help individuals, which is what it is envisaged the millennium trust for carers and the "We Care" 2000 appeal will do.

I have no idea whether the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) was making his last speech to the House. He has had a long and distinguished career,

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and he was supportive of my hon. Friend's proposal. Indeed, it is amazing how the Members of Parliament in Norfolk work closely together in charitable giving and get involved in activities such as singing for charity. I am sorry that neither the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) nor my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) feel that they are physically active enough to participate in sport. I hope that the Government's policies on sport will help them to do so in future.

The right hon. Member for South Norfolk said that the NLCB offers grants for one year only. That is not right. Grants can be time-limited, and some are for two or three years. The NLCB will consider a maximum extension of up to six years.

The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and I have similar views on this issue. We support the Bill in principle, and the Government sympathise with the concerns expressed given what has happened. The hon. Gentleman will want to take up the technical suggestions that he has made when the Bill goes into Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) expounded on the value of one of the many projects in his constituency, at West house, providing an illustration of the difference that so many hon. Members have seen the lottery make in their communities. I am grateful to him for supporting the Bill.

The Government sympathise in principle with what my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North is trying to achieve. We may wish to offer technical improvements should his Bill make further progress, but we shall not oppose it today.

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