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Volume 403: debated on Monday 7 April 2003

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How many responses she has received to the consultation on the future of the national lottery. [107053]

The Department received 425 responses to the consultation paper on the review of lottery funding.

I declare an interest as a member of the Benfleet horticultural society. I congratulate the Secretary of State on her good humour, and on the professionalism shown by her and by lottery staff in the distribution of grants. Does she agree that lottery sales would increase if grants were directed away from politically correct and controversial schemes towards genuine community-based schemes such as that of the Benfleet horticultural society, which is doing such excellent work in the Castle Point community?

I looked at the figures relating to the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and I note that his constituents have benefited less than they should have from the distribution of lottery moneys. I hope he understands how seriously I take the need to ensure equitable distribution. As for his swipe at political correctness, what is politically correct today may be progressive and socially acceptable tomorrow. I would bet a small lottery prize that had we been debating the lottery in the early part of the last century, the suffragettes would have been dismissed as politically correct.

Is the Secretary of State aware that thousands of small retailers are currently having their lottery franchises removed? While her main concern must of course be to maximise the take for good causes, will she look into the growing concentration of distribution that is benefiting supermarkets and disadvantaging small retailers?

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I know that Camelot has a rationalisation under way, and that being a lottery distributor it is extremely popular. I am glad it has taken the needs of rural areas into account, but I will keep a close watch to ensure that people in all areas have easy access to shops where they can buy lottery tickets.

Is it not the case that only six of the 425 respondents favoured merging the community fund and the New Opportunities Fund, while bodies representing voluntary organisations were overwhelmingly against it? Will the Secretary of State assure us that the merger will not go ahead until Parliament has properly considered and approved it?

As I have told the hon. Gentleman in a parliamentary answer, about 12 respondents expressed a view. The ratio between those expressing reservations and those supporting the merger was 50:50. The proposals arising from the review will form part of a White Paper, which will be published later in the year, and Parliament will have ample opportunity—as Parliament should—to debate not just the merger proposals but the other proposals for revitalising our national lottery.

When the Secretary of State draws up the White Paper, will she say whether she is satisfied that despite the Government's pledge to reduce it, the amount of money still sitting in the national lottery distribution fund stands at £3.2 billion, 14 per cent. over the figure inherited by her Government? Is it riot a scandal that in the last five years more than £1 billion has accumulated in interest payments—money that could have been used to transform the lives of thousands of people?

First, the hon. Gentleman should understand that the money raised in interest by the NLDF does go into good causes, so the income has been realised for good causes. Secondly, the balances are now at their lowest level for five years, but I agree that the balances at their present level are unacceptable. However, it is important to understand that balances that stand at £3.24 billion represent on the latest figures almost £500 million of over-commitment. That is money being held on account for organisations that have been awarded lottery grants which have yet to be drawn down. The distributors gave an undertaking to halve the level of balances, and I am working with them to ensure that we accelerate the rate of draw-down. Proposals relating to that will form part of the review to be published later this summer.

Will the Secretary of State be very cautious when she cites figures for lottery money given to constituencies? If she looked at the figures for West Derbyshire, she would tell me that we had had a huge amount of lottery grant over the past few years, but considering that much of that lottery grant goes to the county council for schemes that it is promoting, the money is spread across the county. The figures that she gives are often misleading.

The figures are not intended to mislead, but if one examines the figures on a countywide rather than a constituency basis, there will appear to be clustering of lottery grants in particular areas. My hon. Friends representing Birmingham constituencies make a similar point about the distribution of grants in Birmingham, and I am sure that there are other examples. One of the purposes of undertaking the review of lottery distribution is to tackle some of these tricky questions. Principles of equity demand that we do everything we can to make sure that organisations right across the country have the opportunity to enrich their communities with successful lottery grants.