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23 Oct 2002 : Column 314—continued

6.2 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): On 2 July, like many hon. Members, I received a briefing note from the Library that listed lottery grants by constituency. I found that my constituency came 625th out of 659. It has received only #2.4 million since the lottery started, while the constituency average is #15.7 million. The disparity between our constituencies is absolutely enormous. I quite understand, and would defend the fact, that constituencies with national facilities should expect a larger share of lottery funding, as they are providing facilities for the whole country, but the figures clearly show that constituencies in the greatest need have not been treated fairly. The top three constituencies are Greenwich and Woolwich, which received #670 million, Cities of London and Westminster, which received #484 million and Manchester, Central, which received #296 million. Around the country, Birmingham, Ladywood received #183 million, Bristol, West received #142 million, Brent, South received #128 million, Norwich, South received #85 million, Cambridge received #70 million, Truro and St. Austell received #62 million and Nottingham, South received #60 million.

At the other end of the scale, Birmingham, Hall Green, which is clearly a constituency in great need, received only #912,000. Hayes and Harlington received only #671,000, Rayleigh in Essex received just over #1 million and Billericay received #863,000. Those variations in funding per constituency are simply not acceptable. People up and down the country play the lottery.

Mr. Bryant : Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman disagrees with the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride), who said earlier that there should be less insistence on the geographical element?

Andrew Selous: I would advocate taking the average—#15 million per constituency, setting aside the national considerations, which we all understand—and introducing a 33 per cent. upper limit and a 33 per cent. lower limit around that average. There could always be exceptions. If one took the average as #15 million and allowed a variation of between #10 million and #20 million, distribution would be much fairer and we could justify it to our constituents.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): Is not that a rather silly point, particularly when it is applied to large cities? For example, the Millennium stadium in Cardiff is not in my constituency, but it could not have been built half in my constituency and half in the one next door.

Andrew Selous: Obviously there will be boundary differences and variations for national projects such as the Millennium stadium. I have already conceded that point and said that there should be exceptions for national facilities. However, I hope the Government

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intend to address the existing variations in the review that they announced at the end of July and I would commend to them the sort of proposal that I have made.

Dr. Howells: I shall be very brief, as I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to get on. I can inform all hon. Members that, so far, the consultation has generated just four responses from hon. Members. If it were such a vital and burning issue, surely we would have received a lot more representations.

Andrew Selous: I hope that the Minister will take this speech as part of my own representation, but I will undertake to write to him specifically about this point so that he will have a fifth representation before long. I intend to contact the chief executive of South Bedfordshire district council and all the local voluntary groups and community organisations in my constituency that have made unsuccessful bids for lottery funding to see whether we can achieve more.

Huw Irranca-Davies : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way. Can he advise me about areas of my constituency that cannot apply for lottery funding? The stuffing was knocked out of them by 20-odd years of Conservative government and they do not have community leadership or community groups.

Andrew Selous: The hon. Gentleman makes a slightly cheap point. I drew attention to many constituencies in areas of great need that have been very poorly served. I have said that that is wrong and that I would like something to be done about it. I hope that he concedes that.

I should like to move on to look at the way in which the new opportunities fund intends to fund different constituency projects. I corresponded with the new opportunities fund in the east of England. I understand that funding is allocated according to the index of multiple deprivation for 2000. That sounds fair enough, but it has a grave drawback that applies across a range of Government projects. Constituencies such as mine, which overall are reasonably well-to-do but have significant areas that are less well off, lose out substantially. I understand from the reply that I received from the new opportunities fund in the east of England that this is of great concern throughout the area. The letter informs me that an OSEP—a multi-agency observatories social exclusion project—in the east of England area will be trying to drill down below ward level to apply lottery money to specific projects in the greatest need. In his reply to the debate, will the Minister clarify whether every region in the UK will be replicating this work, and, if so, is it really necessary or the best use of public funds? That would seem to be a slight waste of funds.

In my constituency, I have taken a great interest in homelessness and made my maiden speech in a debate on the subject. A local housing charity, First Place housing, was initially funded by the lottery for one or two years, after which the funding was stopped. That caused great difficulty; the centre it ran in Leighton Buzzard had to close and the centre that it still manages to run in Dunstable cannot do as much work as it would like. I feel extremely concerned about this matter.

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We have heard about village, community and church halls, but this is not just a rural issue. There is a serious problem with regard to disability discrimination legislation. I will defend passionately the right of disabled people to have full access to all premises. My mother was in a wheelchair for much of her life and I have seen the difficulties that people with disabilities face when they want to be integrated fully.

Village, community and church halls are worried about legislation that is to come into force next year requiring them to provide full accessibility to disabled people. I do not want those facilities to close because they cannot, with the best will in the world, raise the funds to make the vital improvements. This is an extremely serious issue, and we do not have long to deal with it.

I understand that the charity, Action with Communities in Rural England, has said that a #50 million fund is urgently needed up and down the country to help halls to cope with the legislation. I commend that to the Minister so that progress can be made. I visited the Billington village hall committee in my constituency recently, so I know how desperately worried the local volunteers who run such centres are about this matter.

I have mentioned homeless charities that have had their money stopped and the desperate need among village and community halls. It is galling for causes that command widespread support, whose funds have been stopped or who cannot obtain them, to see causes with less widespread support being given money. I urge the Minister to consider the guidelines. I take the point about the arm's-length principle and about politicians not interfering, but one of the criteria in the guidelines should be that causes should command widespread support, so that we can increase the amount of giving from the public and ensure that funding stays at a high level to benefit good causes.

I urge those involved in the lottery to realise that they have a responsibility to help those who are addicted to the lottery and to scratch cards. There is a moral responsibility on the lottery in that regard. Projects funded by the lottery should be well advertised; the connection between funds going to the lottery and projects should be made clear. People will be encouraged to contribute to the lottery if they see the connection between the pound or two that they pay and the funding of a worthwhile project in their area.

Finally, I echo the point about application forms that has been made by several Members. It is not fair that the smaller community organisations, such as those to which the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) referred, cannot cope with the complexity of the very long forms. It is unfair that only charities with development officers are able to benefit.

6.13 pm

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): I rise to speak as a founding member of a rather unfortunate cross-party group of Members of Parliament who represent the constituencies that have not received a great deal of lottery money. One of the regular attenders is the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), who has paid great attention to the subject. It is a group that we would all like to escape from.

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Some twelve or so constituencies languish at the bottom of the league table, with less than 10 per cent. of the average given to constituencies nationally. These are sizeable communities, and we believe that more needs to be done to address the issues that are preventing local groups, charities, sports clubs and the like from applying for grants.

Only this morning, the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) and myself—a cross-party delegation—went to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for talks with the heads of the various distributing bodies. It was a constructive and positive discussion, and we are trying to ensure that more effort is made to provide our voluntary organisations with the capacity to submit more applications. Our group has also had two positive and helpful meetings with the Secretary of State. There is some momentum behind those unfortunate Members who wish to get out of our group.

The Opposition may want to consider why we have had to have those meetings. They talk about mismanagement, but it would be fair and objective to ask why some areas have done so much better than others. The explanation lies to a large extent in the fact that the early years of the lottery could be characterised as a free-for-all, when all-comers could bang in their applications and money flowed out of the distributors' hands without any clear strategy or sense as to how everybody, regardless of where they lived, could benefit.

We now have a situation where it will be impossible for some geographical areas to catch up, but at least the Government have recognised this and introduced the fair shares scheme, which seeks to ensure that more lottery money goes to areas that have had a low share in the past and which are also deprived. I have some queries about exactly how the fair shares scheme is designed, and I have some ideas about how it ought to be improved. My thoughts will be submitted to the consultation on the distribution of lottery funds, and I hope that, apart from the unfortunate group of Members to which I have referred, others will append their names to my proposal. The deadline is 30 October, a week away, so there is time to do it.

We cannot go on with a situation where some constituencies have received barely #1 million pounds for local good causes, when the average is nearly #16 million. I know that there are many complexities in how one might assess the true value of the lottery to the people who live in local areas; after all, many people will use facilities in city centres, such as football stadiums, which are paid for with lottery funds from the general public but are not based in their locality.

In my view, there is a clear injustice where local people have bought a disproportionate number of lottery tickets but have not seen much happening locally as a result. I expect that, by now, my constituency has bought nearly #50 million worth of lottery tickets. The average return to constituencies is nearly #16 million; in my case, the figure is just #2 million. If there is a need for any soul-searching over the lottery, it is about whether some people are buying more than their fair share of lottery tickets and are subsidising the activities of those who could well afford not to be subsidised. I should like

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to see research done on that. If people are to be encouraged to buy tickets, they should know that the money is fairly distributed.

As I have said, these are very complex questions, and no one knows this better than those who organise the distribution of the funds. I invited Lady Brittan to my constituency to press the case in person. She came up without delay and spent a considerable amount of time talking about the issues with an excellent local organisation, Morley Elderly Action. She was courteous and knowledgeable, and I am sorry that the Opposition have chosen implicitly to ally themselves with a newspaper attack on her and her staff; an attack that, in their usual mealy-mouthed way, the Opposition dissociate themselves from but are secretly content to see take place.

That sort of behaviour taints everything that the lottery does and it is not a rational way to analyse how the lottery is performing. It is not designed to bring about thought-through solutions. The net result of the Opposition's behaviour will be to harm the very thing that they say they want to defend. It is the politics of ethical delinquency. If the delinquents succeed, many organisations, particularly those in areas that have not, as yet, seen great benefits from the lottery, will never see any benefit.

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