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Miss McIntosh: I repeat the commitment that we made when the lottery started and welcome the Government's devotion to a successful concept. I hope that when the Minister for Sport makes his winding-up speech, he will give a commitment to the principle of additionality and that there will be no further raids on the lottery coffers.
Chris Grayling: Does my hon. Friend recognise that in many parts of the country groups that are taking advantage of finance through the new opportunities fund traditionally received much greater support from the local authority? As she will know, local authorities this year are under increasing pressure because they are underfunded for things like teachers' pay. Discretionary spending for grants to the kind of schemes to which the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) referred cannot come through local authorities because of that underfunding.
This week, the Government almost broke with their recently established tradition of burying, or causing to seep out, bad news on Fridays. An announcement on the English fair share areas could have been made during departmental questions on Monday, so we have to ask ourselves why the Secretary of State held it up until yesterday in a written answer to the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson). My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk received that information via his fax machine at approximately 4.08 pm, and the Secretary of State elaborated further on the scheme today.
Tessa Jowell: With great respect, the hon. Lady must do better. She has been abandoned by the Opposition spokesman, who is away from the House, to handle this debate. As Secretary of State, I am here. The hon. Lady,
Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her assistance. In announcing the fair share agreement in her written answer and her opening remarks today, she referred to her announcement on 27 June 2001. I wish to spare her blushes, but one must ask why it has taken nine months for an announcement originally promised on 27 June to seep out in that elaborate form. Following the targeted lottery initiative announcement on 27 June, one is tempted to ask why the Secretary of State has waited so long to make yesterday's announcement. What reason for such a long delay can there possibly be?
Tessa Jowell: I must put the hon. Lady out of her agony. The announcement about the fair share areas was made in today's debate and a parliamentary answer was given yesterday, because the programme will start in April. The announcement is timely; it is properly timed for the start of the programme by the new opportunities fund and the community fund at the beginning of April.
Miss McIntosh: If an announcement had been made in January, the programme could have started in March. If an announcement had been made in September, it could have started in November. However we shall not debate the meaning of the word "timely" because that is not why Members are here.
The written answer to which I referredit has been expanded on by the Secretary of Staterefers to direct support in respect of 51 of our 100 most deprived areas. The community fund and the new opportunities fund have analysed areas that receive less than the average amount of funding from the community fund and from other lottery distributors collectively. Those areas are to receive direct support from fair share. I congratulate the community fund on targeting money on the most deprived areas in that way. The Secretary of State mentioned that £80 million of community fund money will be targeted. I gather that £10 million will subsequently make its way to rural areas, but it should be made clear whether that money is additional to the £80 million or part of it.
I also congratulate the community fund on following the Secretary of State's request that it simplify its procedure. It has pioneered the one-stop shop and even taken advantage of the popular radio programme "The Archers" to explain how the procedures will work. I urge her to go further and to encourage other distributorsespecially those concerned with heritage and the artsto make efforts to put similar money into the fair share initiative.
I add one note of caution. I recognise that the majority of the 100 most deprived areas are not ruralthe list given in the written answer speaks for itself. I welcome the fact that the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) will benefit. None the less, Barking and Dagenham, Barnsley, Darlington, Doncaster, Kingston upon Hull, Peterborough and Portsmouththe list goes oncould hardly be described as rural. I gather that the regional sparsity factor
The Secretary of State may not be aware that Thirsk is now among the 10 per cent. most deprived areas in the country, according to a recent newspaper report; yet Hambleton district would not be considered in the same way. The Government must address that conundrum. They have failed to do so today. I invite them to work with the Countryside Agency to identify and assist areas such as Thirsk, which have been especially badly hit by the foot and mouth crisis. Such areas need the benefit of such a rural scheme.
The Secretary of State did not seem to welcome my appearance at the Dispatch Box. She will have noted that I am the official Opposition spokesman for the lottery. I mentioned that I would welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I am glad to see her recognise from a sedentary position that this is an important subject.
The Secretary of State referred at some length to underspend and the £3.82 billion that is committed. She said that in one sense, such money is not underspent but overspent, as it is committed. A very alarming report was published in The Mail on Sunday on 24 February, referring to a scandal of a £3.6 billion cash mountain that the lottery chiefs are sitting on and cannot give away. I am not entirely persuaded by her explanation. Is it true that there is such a mountain? If so, it is indeed a scandal, but if such reports are not true, the Government should not allow their press machine to go into overspin. If the article is correct, this will not be the first Secretary of State who has had to apologise this week for not being entirely straight with the House and the British public.
In that context, I should like to refer to the answer given by the Minister for Sport yesterday to a written question tabled by the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey). The answer contains two tables, one of which lists all the distributing bodies. Rather alarmingly, it gives the amount held in the lottery distribution fund in millions of pounds. The balance of outstanding commitments is also given. Perhaps the Minister will give some more sense to the table.
Tessa Jowell: I should like to be absolutely clear about what the hon. Lady is saying. Is she suggesting that any of the information that I have given to the House this morning is misleading or incorrect? Does she accept that I made a clear distinction in respect of the important difference between balances being committed and spent? The distributors are not allowed to overspend, but they can overcommit.
Miss McIntosh: I am grateful for that clarification. I was trying to say that that the Secretary of State has not made the position entirely clear and that even the written answer is misleading in many respects. I welcome the opportunity for elaboration on that point; perhaps it can be further clarified later in the debate.
I would welcome a clearer definition of additionality. I have mentioned the concept of underspend or overcommitment, and I believe that the great British public would benefit from greater clarification in that regard.
In conclusion, we seek an undertaking from the Secretary of State that she will restore the clear separation between lottery funds and taxpayers' money, and that the procedures through which the public apply to the lottery distributing bodies for funds will be streamlined to ensure that they are as user-friendly and efficient as possible. We want the Government to admit that they are responsible for a £100 million drop in lottery-funded spending on sport. I am sure that the whole House will unite in condemning that drop. I repeat my plea that all young athletes will qualify in respect of training, including the category of 16 to 18-year-olds, whom I gather do not currently qualify. Perhaps the Minister for Sport was not aware of that point.
We seek an assurance that the suspected £3 billion underspend will be confirmed as a firm spending commitment, that the national lottery will operate as the Conservative Government envisagedfree from Government interference and run for the benefit of good causes, big and small, across the countryand that there will be a proper balance in the distribution of funds by all the lottery bodies and distributing bodies between rural and urban areas, recognising the devastation suffered in rural communities as a result of the on going farming crisis.