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23 Oct 2002 : Column 310—continued

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting question about one of the most difficult areas involved in this issue. However, is he saying that he would rather that the #1 million NOF money be held back until such time as the Scottish Executive decide that it is time to build a proper oncology unit in his area? The hon. Gentleman may be a new Member of the House, but he will know very well that politics is about choosing priorities. There is never an easy way of doing that, and never an easy moment at which to do it. I am sure that he would rather have the #1 million to build that oncology unit now than not have it.

Mr. Duncan: Absolutely. As I have said, these are the present guidelines. I am only too well aware that the problems in my area relating to cancer treatment deserve attention, but they deserve attention from the Government and the taxpayer, not from people who—as the Secretary of State herself said—are on marginal incomes. They do not deserve attention from those who can least afford it. Having said that, I must say I am delighted that the oncology unit has been opened in Dumfries and Galloway, because it is greatly needed.

Time rattles on, but I want to end by raising a couple of hot issues of my own. One is the need to make the process of applying for grants more straightforward. I recently addressed a conference organised by Stewartry Community Initiatives in Dalbeattie, in my constituency. Very small groups have told me time and again that applying for lottery funds was too complex and discriminated against voluntary organisations. The projects that are supported often involve existing full-time development workers. Such organisations do not need to engage in that complex process.

Finally, let me encourage the Minister to be ever more adventurous in regard to the community outlets programme, which is an incredibly important part of the lottery's expansion into the most rural areas in the United Kingdom. Those communities have not the turnover to justify outlets of their own. I have tried to convey the message that the lottery succeeds because of public confidence. When people in rural areas know that they can buy tickets locally, they will see the benefits of the projects that can be supported.

5.52 pm

Andy Burnham (Leigh): When the history books chronicling the events of the Major years are written—indeed, I believe that some have already been written—they will show that the first part of the Opposition motion is accurate. The national lottery was indeed a Conservative creation, and it has indeed raised welcome funds for communities throughout the country. There is no doubt that it provided temporary relief from VAT on fuel, negative equity, black Monday, record NHS waiting lists and the Xback to basics" campaign. For that

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reason, the lottery will go down in history as one of the two memorable achievements of the Major Administration: it will be right up there with the cones hotline.

So much is beyond dispute. From that point onwards, however, the motion descends rapidly into confusion. The substance involves two charges. The first is that the establishment of the new good cause for health, education and the environment was wrong; the second is that recent awards made by the community fund have undermined public confidence in the lottery.

In regard to the second charge, I remind Opposition Members that it was the Conservative Government who insisted on a strict arm's-length arrangement for lottery distributors. It was on precisely that basis that they defended grants for the Churchill papers—mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint)—and the Royal Opera House. The necessary consequence of an arm's-length arrangement is that sometimes funding decisions will be made with which the Government of the day do not agree.

Opposition Members need to be clear about whether they are abandoning their previously steadfast commitment to the arm's-length principle. That is what they are saying today. The truth is that they have not thought it through. Their main reason for calling the debate was not genuine concern for the lottery or the projects that it funds; it had more to do with a cynical attempt to gain quick, cheap headlines on the back of an unpleasant press campaign.

The motion talks of public trust being Xdestroyed". Is that not precisely what the motion and the debate seek to do? We have the party of the vulnerable undermining the lottery, reducing funds to good causes and thereby denying people who could otherwise benefit. That sounds more like the Xnasty party" to me.

The first charge betrays a far more serious misunderstanding of the lottery and of what the public think about it. Lottery players strongly support the principle of lottery funds being used to support health, education and environmental projects. The truth is that Labour's introduction of such action helped to revive confidence in lottery good causes at a time when they had received sustained negative publicity. I hope that in retrospect the Opposition will accept that giving a full fifth of lottery proceeds to the millennium celebrations was a mistake. That was too much, and from the outset—when the lottery was first launched—people called for funding for health and education.

They were right to do so. In the next few weeks, as the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) knows, secondary schools in my constituency will receive funds via the new opportunities fund for brand-new sports facilities and floodlit Astroturf pitches that will be open to the whole community out of school hours. Such facilities are sorely lacking in the Leigh area. Surely giving young people the chance to engage in sport with decent facilities, and in the process helping to tackle crime and improve health, is one of the best uses for lottery money.

Mr. Greenway: Those projects were funded previously by Sport England. Why did we need the NOF to fund them?

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Andy Burnham: I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Those sports facilities in state secondary schools have never been funded by Sport England; they have been funded directly by central Government.

Mr. Greenway: I invite the hon. Gentleman to visit my constituency, where he will see such a facility at Huntington comprehensive school.

Andy Burnham: On the whole, Sport England does not fund state secondary school sports facilities. Lottery money is now funding them—and not just Leigh is benefiting: every constituency will receive some money.

I would like to know how many Opposition Members, like the hon. Member for Colchester, will be writing to their local papers to say that they oppose that funding for secondary schools. They certainly would not have the nerve to attend photocalls. Millbank may have gone, but we will be watching.

The motion suggests that the Opposition would scrap schemes such as this—and money for cancer equipment and treatment for coronary heart disease. That would be a sure-fire way of damaging public confidence in the lottery. It is not just the projects funded by the NOF that command support; the distribution mechanism has much to commend it. National programmes mean that no areas miss out on the free-for-all application process, and an impact is created that makes people link a national initiative to a local scheme. That too is likely to increase public confidence, and I would like more funds to be distributed in the same way.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): The distribution formula is not working very well. People in Essex are receiving very little per head compared with those in other areas. Does the hon. Gentleman want the Minister to try to resolve the problem?

Andy Burnham: That is a fair point. My constituency has not received enough from the lottery, and I think we should look at the reasons for that. Let me return the question to the hon. Gentleman, however. Does not the fact that areas such as mine and his—and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley—have not received their fair share of the lottery have something to do with the way in which his party set up the national lottery? An application-driven process and strict match-funding requirements were always bound to cause regional disparities in funding for good causes. That applies particularly to disadvantaged areas, where community groups do not have the resources possessed by those in more affluent parts.

There should be no surprise about the regional disparities. Leigh has had #3 million from the lottery, which is not a good return from the #13 billion raised so far and much less than the price of the tickets bought in my area. For Leigh, I could substitute many other deprived former coalfield and other communities. I am not against the idea of affluent areas doing well out of the lottery, but areas such as mine have found it difficult to obtain any funds at all. It sometimes seems that the Xgood causes" grants are as random as the prizes given to players.

One of the problems is that the lottery is intensely bureaucratic. XAwards for all" has been a good innovation, but it is not easy to obtain a significant

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lottery grant—one of #50,000 or more. That, however, is what groups in my constituency need: they need bigger lottery grants that can make an impact on the ground.

I have tried to encourage groups in my constituency to apply, but the reaction tends to be the same. People roll their eyes and talk of the work involved. It is not worth taking the risk, because they have a huge expectation of failure. Sadly, that is the case for many people living in former coalfield areas; they will not take the risk, as they know they will have to put in many hours of work.

All that has distanced the lottery from some communities, as there is no ready connection between the work of the lottery and the projects that it funds. Part of the problem is that the public do not connect with the names of the lottery distributors. I know that distributors jealously guard their identities, but public awareness of them is very low indeed. The truth is that, apart from the in-crowd and the statutory sector, painfully few people are aware of the community fund, the heritage lottery fund and the new opportunities fund.

We all complain from time to time that our areas do not get enough out of the lottery. In my case, that is absolutely true: my constituency does not get enough. Under the rules set for them by the previous Conservative Government and later by our Government, the distributors have done a good job, making difficult decisions and getting funding to all parts of the country, but the time has now come to put institutional interests aside and take hard decisions for the future good of the lottery. It should be a simple business. Playing the lottery is a simple business, but there has never been a simple way of getting funds to good causes. The lottery needs to achieve that if it is to survive in the long term.

When I look around my constituency I see countless schemes that could benefit from funding, but I also feel frustrated when I think of the difficulty of cutting through the bureaucratic morass and getting to the point at which they would receive some funding. For too long there has been an assumption that people seeking lottery funding are trying to gain money for improper or unworthy schemes. They are treated as guilty until proved innocent. I would like the system to be turned around. Like the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), I have slowly reached the conclusion that it would be better to have a single good causes organisation to distribute funds and a single lottery gateway with regional offices. However, I believe that we should maintain the shares for each of the current good causes; they would simply be administered by one overarching organisation. In my experience, projects rarely fall neatly into one box and we need rapidly to move to a more integrated system.

I would support the introduction of a two-page application form for all projects. It could be followed up by visits from development workers. That would be the best way of deciding whether a project should proceed. Finally, when projects are funded through one good causes organisation, we should always make sure that the lottery logo—the crossed fingers—is placed prominently on the project, as people recognise it as the sign of the lottery and it is owned by the public sector.

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Of course the great risk in simplifying the system is that some projects may get through the net and some money may be spent unwisely, but that is the price for making it simpler and more accessible. I think that it is a price that the British public are now ready to pay.

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