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National Lottery

Volume 451: debated on Monday 6 November 2006

2. When she next expects to meet representatives of the Big Lottery Fund to discuss grants to village and community halls in rural areas. (99147)

I am sure that the House would like to congratulate Alex Ferguson on 20 years at Manchester United as one of the nation’s most successful managers—and he is a really nice guy, as well.

I have no immediate plans to meet representatives to discuss the subject of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I know that the fund has launched a well-received £50 million community buildings programme to benefit projects across England. In addition, the national lottery has already awarded £258 million to villages and community halls.

Is the Minister aware that although a number of village and community halls in my constituency have received lottery grants, for which they are grateful, many others have been refused grants, much to their dismay and disappointment? He mentioned Sir Alex Ferguson. I was not going to mention him today, but is the Minister aware that Manchester United, one of the richest football clubs in the world, recently received £30,000 from the lottery to run yoga classes and fitness sessions for its staff? What is going on? Why are Ministers and the lottery so against rural areas?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his supplementary question. To answer the first part of it, there are a number of applications from village halls which, because the right information has not been given, have not been granted. It is right that there is that prudence with public funds. The hon. Gentleman has raised this matter a number of times on behalf of his constituency—particularly in relation to Terrington St. John, which he also raised last time. That will be looked into, and has been looked into.

As far as Manchester United and many other employers are concerned, we are trying to get corporate UK to be active—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with this—in making our nation much fitter. We are spending billions of pounds in relation to obesity. Through Sport England and the north-west regional sports board, that initiative is being tried. I congratulate people on that.

Kenfig Pyle Community Youth, which serves three village communities in my constituency, was recently awarded £300,000 to continue its work offering alternatives to drink, drugs and antisocial behaviour. That work is appreciated by the police and there is great acknowledgement of the benefits that that lottery money will bring to the community. May I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for her support in meeting the group from Kenfig Pyle Community Youth, and may I urge the importance of providing—

I am pleased that my hon. Friend made those comments. They clearly show how the Big Lottery Fund can add real value to a number of funding streams. When the legislation was going through Parliament a few weeks ago, the wide consultation throughout the whole of the United Kingdom showed that there was a desire to make sure that the lottery money was used positively to add real value to many funding streams.

Rural communities have been disadvantaged by post office closures, they have been infuriated by community hospital cutbacks, they have, in many cases, been driven into poverty by the single farm payment fiasco, and they have been infuriated by the hunting ban. Will the Minister accept that rural communities feel abandoned and betrayed, and will he play a personal role in ensuring that our village halls at least get an investment in their social capital, which he otherwise preaches so much about?

I understand the points to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I have already said that the lottery has invested £258 million in village halls. When we were in the process of winding up the Millennium Commission money, we noticed that considerably more village halls had been supported in Scotland and Wales than in England, because those in England had not made applications. The hon. Gentleman can read the minutes of the Millennium Commission: Lord Heseltine and I were concerned that many of the village halls in England had not made submissions, which was regrettable.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that a load of village hall applications are in the pipeline. When he meets representatives of the Big Lottery Fund, will he stress the importance of supporting the over-60s at Croston village hall, and others in Chorley? Will he point out the benefits that supporting them would bring to Chorley?

I make it absolutely clear that all the lottery funds, including the Big Lottery Fund, operate at arm’s length from the Government. My strong advice to my hon. Friend is that he help his constituents to ensure that they make full applications. I have no doubt that the various lottery distributing authorities will give such applications a very good hearing.

Of course, the correct answer to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) is that there is less money for village and community halls as a result of the Government having absorbed—shall we say?—£3.2 billion of national lottery money since 1997. It is only thanks to pressure from the Daily Mail and the Conservative party that money has now been found for the armed forces memorial. Will the Minister agree to re-examine the criteria to ensure that applications such as that made by the armed forces memorial fund, which has overwhelming public support, are able to attract lottery funding without needing to obtain the support of a national newspaper?

First, may I say that there is no doubt that the memorial is an excellent idea? There has been considerable investment by the lottery: there has been £45 million to commemorate and preserve the experiences of those who lived and fought through the second world war; 39,000 veterans of world war two—and their widows and carers—were funded for the journey back to the battlefields; and 11 million people participated in the veterans unite programme. By any standard, I do not think that anyone could say that there has not been investment, and rightly so.

When the armed forces memorial trust made this application, it was told that unfortunately, anything below £10 million would not meet the criteria. The amount came in at £4.4 million. On Friday last week, my chief executive from the Millennium Commission phoned me to find out whether it could assist to ensure that the application was met. After I had consulted the trustees and those of the Big Lottery Fund, at 4 pm on Friday, Lord Heseltine and I cleared the £2 million that was subsequently released. The outcome was not pushed by the Daily Mail or any other body. The application went through in the normal way. As you know, Mr. Speaker, there are politicians—

Order. I say to the Minister that perhaps he could send a letter to the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire), with a copy placed in the Library for the benefit of the House.

Cut off in his prime, Mr. Speaker.

Will the Minister confirm or deny reports that Treasury officials intend to make another hit on the national lottery to pay for Olympic overspend, which would mean that even less money would go to community groups and the original good causes?

The hon. Gentleman knows that there is a joint agreement among the three funding partners—and that is what we are sticking to. If he could start thinking a little for himself, instead of being informed by the journalists of the Daily Mail, some original thinking might actually come from the Conservative party, rather than their pathetic attempts at the moment.