National Lotteries Bill

There is no disputing the fact that proceedings on the Bill have been a long haul. As the Minister pointed out, it received its First Reading in this House as long ago as 25 November 2004. What a difference 19 months makes! After one election, two Conservative party leaders and three Home Secretaries, we have finally reached the finishing tape.Let me say at the outset that significant progress has been made, and it would be churlish of us to oppose the Government today. Nevertheless, we remain concerned, despite the sterling work done in another place, that the underlying principles behind the Government’s thinking will prove detrimental to the fundamental principles of the national lottery. We intend to remain vigilant to ensure that worries about vastly increased Government control over the distribution of lottery funds are kept at bay. I will say more about that when we come to the next group of amendments.

In our view, the national lottery was set up by a Conservative Government more than a decade ago with the specific purpose of improving the daily quality of life for all people in Britain by reserving funds for activities that might otherwise be neglected in the everyday distribution of taxation receipts. By contrast, the creation of the Big Lottery Fund?the centrepiece of the Bill?represents a step, if perhaps a small one, away from the exclusive focus on the four original good causes: arts, heritage, sports and charity.

I am however happy to recognise that the Government have taken on board many of the specific concerns that we expressed in what the Minister has diplomatically described as "lively" discussions on Report and Third Reading on 19 January. I also welcome the Government’s acceptance of the two important matters of principle in another place. We are pleased that the lottery distributors have now agreed that they will report back annually on how they are adhering to the additionality principle.

On Third Reading in the Lords, the noble Lord Davies, on behalf of the Government, tabled a specific amendment to establish the agreement of the distributors to enshrine in the Bill the duties of those distributors. We entirely agree with the Government that decisions on what to fund should remain strictly for lottery distributors, but we still believe that it would have been helpful had a stricter definition of additionality been placed in the Bill. However, we recognise that a detailed report on the upholding of the distinction between lottery funding and Government funding represents a workable solution and one that we will obviously look at in the years ahead.

We recognise that the noble Lord has given us an assurance that if Parliament has reason to take issue with reports from distributors, there will be opportunities to debate that. Similarly, we appreciate the fact that lottery funding being additional to Government funding does not mean that it should necessarily be complementary to such Government expenditure.

May I at this point place on record my thanks to my colleagues in another place, Viscount Astor, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville and Lord Luke, for all their sterling efforts?The other main issue on which we crossed swords with the Government was the control of the Big Lottery Fund. As the Minister will recall, the Government were narrowly defeated in the Lords on Report when we sought to remove the Secretary of State’s powers to prescribe by affirmative resolution types of expenditure for the Big Lottery Fund. While taking at face value the assurance from the Government that those powers are needed only to establish a broad theme rather than specific spending intentions, we recognise that the new amendment tabled here today effectively accepts the spirit of that amendment from the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats in another place.

In that context, I thank the Minister for his assurances that his amendment tabled to clause 14 puts the Big Lottery Fund in the same position as other lottery distributors with regard to policy directions, but in doing so, we recognise that the Big Lottery Fund will need to take account of, rather than simply comply with, financial directions in the same way as other lottery distributors.

We also recognise that, on Third Reading in the Lords, there were several new and uncontentious amendments tabled by the Government to which we will come later, when I shall also say a few words about the ongoing independence of the Big Lottery Fund. It is important that there be independence from Government intervention?or, indeed, any political intervention?in relation to the distribution of lottery funds. It is a great worry that we are moving down a path that will become more apparent as we debate the new lottery operator. It is all the more important that, effectively, we have three very independent organisations, with Parliament overseeing the lottery operator and the distribution of lottery funds. An intermingling of responsibilities would be dangerous, and this is something that we will debate in the months and years ahead.With those comments and with my thanks for the Minister’s words, I hope that we can move ahead on the Government’s proposals today.

Plus a further intervention during the debate:

Mr. Mark Field: We, too, have expressed the concern that the more we have to justify expenditure on the arts and heritage in relation to extraneous elements such as education, law and order and the like, the more dangerous the path. As the Minister rightly points out, in times of difficult financial straits for the country?whether or not they actually come to pass?if we have to justify expenditure on the arts and heritage in relation to money and goods for health and education there will be something of a disaster. Inevitably, money will go to health and education, not to the all-important artistic heritage that he rightly promotes and praises.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Bill

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this we may consider Lords amendments Nos. 4 and 5.

Mr. Mark Field: As the Minister pointed out, Lords amendments Nos. 3 and 4 require the Secretary of State to consult other persons as she thinks appropriate in the extreme circumstance that she decides to exercise the balance relocation power in clause 8, which is a common-sense safeguard. Similarly, the Government proposal in Lords amendment 5 to make it clear that the powers in clause 11 cannot be used by lottery distributors simply to promote their own lottery games makes sense, especially if there is to be more effective competition in the lottery in the next decade. We welcome those minor amendments, and we will not press them to a vote this afternoon.

As we are debating national lottery issues, I wish to put two of the Opposition’s longer-term concerns on the record. Like the Secretary of State, I am a London Member of Parliament. Our capital city has every reason to be proud of securing the Olympic games for 2012, but I agree with a number of concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher). Serious questions remain about the means of funding the Olympic games. Given the track record of all recent Olympiads, with the exception of the two held in the United States?Los Angeles in 1984 and Atlanta 12 years later?there is a significant likelihood of a substantial cost overrun. One need only look at the experience of the hapless council tax payers of Montreal who, 30 years on, are still paying the price of their Olympic games, to understand that risk. Even the much admired Sydney Olympics six years ago cost almost three times as much as the initial budget. As the Minister will be aware, the current arrangements place the burden of any cost entirely in the hands of London council tax payers. Realistically, for political as well as economic reasons, that is unlikely to come to pass. There is little doubt that a cost overrun will partly be met by the national lottery. While welcoming the capping of liabilities for many central London constituents, I am deeply concerned that countless millions of pounds of lottery money earmarked for arts, heritage, charities and general sporting expenditure may be transferred to an avaricious London Olympic monster. The Opposition are concerned about plans for the hypothecation. We have discussed the tick-box culture and the hypothecation of the national lottery, so it is important that the Government accept the Lords amendments and the independence of the operation of the Big Lottery Fund. Distributors should be free from political interference; otherwise I fear that many initiatives would be open to hypothecation.

As the Minister is aware, the bidding process for the third franchise, which now involves a 10-year term rather than a seven-year term, is already under way. The decision will have been made by this time next year, with the new lottery term beginning in February 2009. I hope that in the next six months we can debate in Government time the broader national lottery issues that I have tried to touch on in this brief contribution.