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23 Oct 2002 : Column 305—continued

Miss Kirkbride: I have two responses to the hon. Gentleman. First, the guidelines were changed. Secondly, the community fund in general has a responsibility to pay due and strict attention to the organisations that it funds. We are democratically elected and are responsive to the electorate, who can sack us in a general election. We are obliged to answer our constituents' mail. Our remarks in the Chamber and the way in which we vote on legislation are recorded in Hansard. So we have a democratic responsibility on which we can be challenged.

One weakness of the community fund and other grant-giving bodies is the lack of democratic responsiveness. They need to be much more attentive to public reaction when they decide to give awards to organisations that will engender a hostile response. It saddens me that they put themselves in that position because it harms the wider good works that they do.

I engaged in a radio debate with one of the community fund distributors. It saddened me to hear the distributor say that such grants account for only a tiny proportion of the money distributed. That is not the point. Hundreds of thousands of pounds would do great good in all our constituencies, and that opportunity has been lost with the award of such a grant.

Ms Atherton: I am listening to the hon. Lady's arguments. Does she agree with the campaign by the Daily Mail to target the chair of the community fund?

Miss Kirkbride: No, certainly not. In fairness, the Daily Mail has condemned the opprobrium attached to Lady Brittan and does not believe that it is right and proper. [Interruption.] I am not an apologist for the Daily Mail; I am here to express my views. I am happy to make it clear that I would not support such attacks in any shape or form.

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Hon. Members have mentioned the Government's changes to the guidelines. Indeed, I referred to them when I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale). Apart from creating a more level playing field for the communities that benefit from a lottery grant, there is no need to issue guidelines on who should receive such funds. That decision should be for the discretion of the people who award them. We should not say that they are just for young people.

Claire Ward: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Kirkbride: No. I am afraid that I do not have much time.

Mr. Chris Smith: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Kirkbride: Yes, as the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for the guidelines.

Mr. Smith: No one has said that lottery distributors should just look after the interests of children and young people. There is a spread of need in our society to which the lottery distributors need to pay attention.

Miss Kirkbride: The right hon. Gentleman admitted in an intervention that his guidelines stated that priority should be given to young people.

Mr. Smith: The hon. Lady was not listening. I said—the wording was precise—that attention should be paid to the needs of children and young people. That is very different from giving exclusive priority to them.

Miss Kirkbride: We will have to agree to differ on the semantics. It seems to Conservative Members that the right hon. Gentleman created a priority for young people which is inappropriate, given the needs of the entire community.

The creation of priorities in the new guidelines detracts from the fact that some organisations may have been refused a grant because of too much political correctness. For example, the British Legion was refused #500,000 for a residential home, an application for #400,000 for ex-servicemen suffering from psychiatric illnesses was refused, the British Vascular Foundation was refused #30,000 to help to promote knowledge about diseases and strokes and the British Liver Trust was refused #224,000 to help with screening for a dangerous genetic disorder that affects 200,000 people.

These are all worthwhile causes, and it is disappointing to Conservative Members that such categories of organisations have been refused grants. I do not want to excite the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury by saying which categories of successful applicants I disapprove of, but they should not have been given money when the needy organisations that I have just mentioned were turned down.

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5.35 pm

Claire Ward (Watford): Since the lottery was established in 1994, it has provided huge benefits to millions of people in every constituency. There is not a single Member who cannot point to a project in their constituency that has received a substantial benefit from the national lottery. Whether through support for the arts, heritage, sports, charities or other good causes, the #12 billion raised in that time has helped thousands of projects, large and small.

We rightly took the opportunity to review the operation of the lottery, just as we reviewed every area of legislation, and in the National Lottery Act 1998 we made the changes necessary to ensure a broader distribution of funds. The creation of the new opportunities fund was a manifesto commitment. As I reminded the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) earlier, this party sticks to its manifesto commitments—something that the previous Government did not do. Since the fund has been in operation, it has funded out-of-school-hours clubs in more than 12,000 schools, provided local hospitals with more than 2,000 pieces of new equipment to treat cancer and coronary heart disease, and allocated #750 million to local PE and sports projects. Those are just some of the things that the fund has done to ensure that the national lottery benefits more and more people in the way the public wants. As I said earlier, when we talk to members of the public we find that many people do not want the national lottery proceeds to be invested only in sports, the arts, heritage, charities and voluntary organisations; they want to see the benefits in education and health.

Caroline Flint: Does my hon. Friend agree that the lottery funding priorities of health, education and sport mirror the areas that have benefited from record public expenditure, and that lottery funding is therefore added value to those massive public spending increases?

Claire Ward: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She reinforces the message that the national lottery provides additionality, just as the Government insisted it should.

In this debate we have heard a lot from the Opposition about a particular organisation that has received funding. It has been made clear that although many of us have widely differing views about some of the organisations that receive funding from the distributing bodies, we accept that it is important to have an arm's-length principle and to allow those bodies to make the decisions. The Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport were right to question the decision to award a grant to the NCADC and to remind the community fund to look carefully at how it was made. We ought to be concerned that organisations that receive lottery funding do not act in a manner that is highly political or at odds with the guidelines set by the Government and by parliamentary decisions. I disagree, however, with the unacceptable attacks by newspapers, in particular the Daily Mail, and the excessive campaign that brought out the worst elements of racism. Of course there should be an opportunity to question the allocation of grants, but in this case the manner in which that was done was not appropriate.

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People play the lottery because they want to win. If their primary purpose were to give money to a good cause or charity, they would do that without buying a lottery ticket. However, when they do not win, they feel better because a proportion of their #1 has gone to a good cause. When they read a negative story, some players decide not to continue to play the national lottery; so negative stories have an impact on funding.

It will be no surprise to many hon. Members to learn that the headquarters of the national operator, Camelot, is in my constituency. It employs more than 400 people. In the past few weeks, it has noticed a direct correlation between the newspaper stories and funds. The damaging attack on the national lottery has resulted in a fall in the sum that will be made available to good causes. We should examine that in the review.

I hope that the Government will consider how we can ensure a better connection between the organisations and good causes that are funded and what the public want. However, we must achieve a balance: we must ensure that the lottery exists not only for the big causes and great national charities about which we all know, or the popular arts, sports and heritage projects, but also for smaller groups of which many of us have never heard. It is also there for minority groups and interests.

The Government's review of the national lottery presents an opportunity to try to achieve that balance. The beauty of the lottery is that thousands of small groups—voluntary organisations that carry out important work in communities throughout the country—have benefited from small and sometimes significant grants. I hope that they will continue to do that as the lottery goes from strength to strength.

5.42 pm

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): I want to bring to hon. Members' attention some aspects of the lottery that have been well publicised, especially north of the border, and that form an important part of the debate.

I am only too keen to advocate any Conservative policy that brings great benefit to Scotland. The lottery, a successful policy of John Major's Administration, resulted in 14,700 awards in Scotland and a total that now exceeds #1 billion for valued good causes north of the border. That is directly related to the #12 billion that has been raised throughout the United Kingdom. I received that information through a news release on one of my regular visits to the Scotland Office website, which apparently costs the taxpayer in Scotland a considerable amount. On the website, the Secretary of State for Scotland urges Scots to make a good response to the Government's consultation.

One inequity that I wish to raise results from the fair share programme. It is a laudable programme that has highlighted some imbalances in Scotland as well as the rest of the United Kingdom. It identifies Glasgow city, Dundee city, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and South Ayrshire as places that have received less than their fair share of lottery distributions. I shall discuss some of the reasons for their under-representation later, but first, I want to consider a fair share matter that affects my constituency: rurality.

There is an inherent bias in lottery funding away from rural areas. I was delighted to receive notification recently of a grant to refurbish Rhonehouse village hall

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near Castle Douglas in my constituency. That valued project would not have been realised without the national lottery. However, projects are analysed by constituency and, as was said earlier, that can hide inequities in the constituencies that merit investigation.

An anomaly to which I draw the House's attention involves an aspect of the new opportunities fund that has received considerable press coverage north of the border: the Scottish land fund. I am aware, as are many hon. Members, of a case that has been publicised in the papers, in which an award of more than #3 million was made to the residents of Gigha, to purchase their island. I have before me an advertisement dated 10 August 2001, which makes interesting reading. It advertises facilities on the island, including an airstrip and the XAward-winning Gigha Hotel" with

The matter drew considerable press comment at the time, and I thought it worthy of some investigation today.

I looked at the Scottish land fund website—which is administered through Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise—which sets out the objectives of the fund as:

I wholeheartedly agree with that—

Nowhere in the objectives is the word Xsustainable" to be found. It is causing concern in Scotland that such a substantial award was made to a small community of only 110 people. People are worried that the community may have got into an unsustainable situation, and we wonder whether it is part of the lottery's core objectives to create such situations.

Following the creation of the new opportunities fund—the Xsixth good cause"—in 1998, I found myself with a dilemma. I have a personal interest to declare, in that my wife is the fundraising manager for Macmillan Cancer Relief in Dumfries and Galloway, and she and I are delighted that a new oncology unit is being built at the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary with the assistance of more than #1 million from the new opportunities fund. I am keen to make use of whatever guidance is in place relating to the new opportunities fund, and that project would not have happened at this point without NOF funding. Is it, however, the objective of the national lottery that key health projects should happen simply because people buy lottery tickets? Although people in Dumfries and Galloway have no access to chemotherapy, for example, and the unit will resolve the problem of people who are diagnosed with cancer having to undertake a two or three-hour drive to Edinburgh every day to undergo treatment, is it right that the Government should choose to solve that problem through the sale of lottery tickets?

I have a particular problem with that, because many analyses show that tickets are generally purchased by those with less-than-average earnings. Indeed, the

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Secretary of State pointed out earlier that it was often the most marginal income that was used for that purpose. Is it appropriate for marginal income from those who can least afford it to be the source of spending in key areas of health and education? I would advocate that it is not. It is the absolute opposite of the progressive taxation that would be seen as the most reasonable way to do this in a fair society.

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