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23 Oct 2002 : Column 279—continued

Opposition Day

[19th Allotted Day—1st Part]

National Lottery

Mr. Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.49 pm

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): I beg to move,

It is a pleasure to find that my first outing in this Chamber in my new brief should be to debate with the Secretary of State an issue that I know both of us believe to be of great importance. In her recent consultation paper, the Secretary of State said that after eight years it was now the right time to review the operation of the national lottery. I agree, although recent events have made the need for that review even more urgent. I hope that this debate will help to inform the consultation on which the Govt are embarked.

It is worth saying that the national lottery has been a fantastic success. It was created by the last Conservative Government to raise money for good causes, while at the same time providing the enjoyment of a modest flutter with the admittedly small chance of winning a life-changing amount of money.

Bob Russell (Colchester): It has been a major success.

Mr. Whittingdale: It has indeed, despite the fact that the Liberal Democrats voted at every stage against the Bill that introduced it, I believe.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): On that point, is my hon. Friend aware of any Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament supporting lottery grants in their constituency, having voted against the lottery when it was introduced?

Mr. Whittingdale: That is an interesting point. Indeed, I look forward to hearing the Liberal Democrat spokesman try to defend that very point later in the debate.

To get back to its success, the national lottery has surpassed all expectations of how much money it might raise. It was originally suggested by the then Home Secretary, Ken Baker, when he proposed the idea that

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Less than eight years after its establishment, it has already raised over #12 billion.

Grants awarded by the national lottery are transforming the landscape and have provided a boost to arts, sports and heritage that could never have been achieved from reliance on the taxpayer alone.Some of the major projects that have been supported by the lottery have been an unqualified success: Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, the Eden project in Cornwall and the Tate Modern. Others have not been so successful. The millennium dome, which used up #630 million of lottery money, is perhaps a case in point. However, in many ways, it is the thousands of smaller grants that have really made a difference.

There have been many arguments in the Chamber about whether the distribution of grants has been fair. We may hear them again this afternoon, but every hon. Member will know of organisations and projects in his or her constituency that have benefited from lottery funds. Village halls, sports pitches, museums, galleries and community centres have all been transformed thanks to lottery money. Many will argue over the record of the Conservative Government, but few would deny that one of their lasting achievements was the establishment of a national lottery in the United Kingdom.

One of the fundamental principles of the lottery from its beginning was that the money raised should be used to finance projects that were unlikely to be regarded as of sufficient priority to get financial support from the taxpayer. Both sides have always accepted the principle of additionality—that lottery money should not be used to fund core spending programmes that should be paid for by the taxpayer. Indeed, in the Government's own White Paper published five years ago, the Prime Minister himself wrote:

yet the creation in 1998 of a sixth good cause, the new opportunities fund, was in direct breach of the additionality principle. It was created specifically to fund health, environment and education projects, which traditionally have always been regarded as the responsibility of Government.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that a manifesto commitment should be implemented, that Labour put it to the electorate in 1997 that health would be one of our lottery-funded targets, and that that has produced great improvements and been welcomed by the public?

Mr. Whittingdale: I heartily disagree with a large part of the Labour party manifesto, including that particular provision. Just because it was in the manifesto does not necessarily make it the right thing to do.

Claire Ward (Watford): The hon. Gentleman forgets a fundamental fact: in a democracy, the people decide. The people very clearly decided that they wanted our manifesto commitments, not the hon. Gentleman's.

Mr. Whittingdale: In a democracy, it is the Opposition's job to oppose what they think is wrong, which is what we shall continue to do.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way—we are having such a

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reliable hat trick. Does he accept that, most importantly for constituencies such as mine, the new opportunities fund has been one of few ways to ensure that money is spread more equitably throughout the country?

Mr. Whittingdale: I accept that a large part of what the new opportunities fund has done is extremely welcome. My point is not that the money should not have been spent, but that lottery money should not have been spent. I shall give one or two examples.

The new opportunities fund has financed information technology training for teachers and the treatment and prevention of coronary heart disease and cancer. The Prime Minister got up at the Labour party conference to announce that #750 million would be spent on improving sports facilities in schools, but it was only afterwards that we discovered that that money would come from the national lottery via the new opportunities fund. None of those are bad things—they are extremely desirable—but they represent activities that most people would believe are core responsibilities of the Government.

The new opportunities fund also explicitly breaks the arm's length principle, and I suspect that we may hear quite a lot about that this afternoon. Unlike the other distributing bodies, the new opportunities fund receives direct instructions from Ministers about the projects that it should finance.

Claire Ward: Is the hon. Gentleman not aware of the Omnibus survey, which took place in July this year and which indicated that 59 per cent. of the public wanted the national lottery's proceeds to be spent on health and that 53 per cent. wanted the lottery to spend money on education? Does he not believe that that shows that the public want some national lottery funds to be spent on those two areas?

Mr. Whittingdale: I have a great mistrust of opinion polls, but if people understood that the Government were using national lottery money to pay for projects that would otherwise rightly be paid for out of central Government funds, the hon. Lady might find that those figures would be rather different.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a scandalously long wait for radiotherapy treatment in my part of East Sussex and Kent? Some women in my constituency have had to wait up to 24 weeks for post-operative radiotherapy care. Much needed linear accelerators are now being bought, but the money is coming from lottery funds via the new opportunities fund, to which he refers. Many of my constituents find it absolutely obscene that such core health facilities are being funded from lottery money.

Mr. Whittingdale: My hon. Friend cites a very good example, which demonstrates that the Government are completely failing to deliver in the health service—and lottery funds will not bail them out.

I shall now return to the lottery's original purpose. Perhaps most damaging of all is the impact of the new opportunities fund on the other good causes. When the

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lottery was first set up, each of the original good causes—sport, the arts, heritage, charities and the millennium celebration—took an equal share of the proceeds. However, since the new opportunities fund was created, it has taken a steadily bigger share of the cake. Instead of the 25 per cent. that sports, art, heritage and charity bodies expected to receive when the Millennium Commission was wound up, they now only get 16.7 per cent., but the new opportunities fund receives a third—twice as much as any other cause. That has significantly reduced the money available for the original good causes.

The community fund's grant income has dropped from #366 million in 1997 to #296 million last year, and it predicts a further fall to #213 million over the next three years. The income of the Arts Council of England has dropped by the same amount, as has that of Sport England. Falling income has meant that many applications for deserving projects now have to be turned down. In the first round of the arts capital programme, #400 million worth of applications were received for just #88 million of available funds. According to Sport England:

It continues:

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