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National Lottery

Volume 456: debated on Monday 29 January 2007

5. What recent discussions her Department has held with national lottery distributors on the potential impact of the funding for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics on lottery good causes. (111453)

I am responsible for lotteries, and lottery distributors, like Members of the House, strongly support the 2012 games. That includes paying some of the costs from the lottery. Since we first announced our intention to bid way back in May 2003 we have kept distributors informed and will continue to do so.

The lottery will provide £1.5 billion for the Olympics, but there is already a £900 million overspend. If that sum, too, is taken from lottery funds, it will have a devastating impact on spending across the country. The Big Lottery Fund alone would lose £450 million, which would result in every constituency in the country losing £500 million-worth of local projects in the next five years. Will the Minister give us a guarantee that there will not be any further Olympic smash-and-grab raids on lottery funds?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave a full account of the budget to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. When the previous Select Committee conducted a hearing in June 2003, at its request the documentation included an appendix on the memorandum of understanding between the Mayor’s office and the Government explaining how any overshoot would be funded. The Government expect to discharge that responsibility through shared arrangements, to be agreed with the Mayor of London, and by seeking additional national lottery funding in amounts to be agreed at the time. Government discussions on the overspend are under way, as my right hon. Friend told the Select Committee.

There is no doubt that the Paralympics and the 2012 Olympics will benefit every part of the UK, but does my right hon. Friend accept that there are genuine concerns that good causes could be affected if increased funding is to be provided by the lottery? Will he assure the House that that decision will be made after full consultation with the Scottish Executive so that they can express their views on the effect on good causes in Scotland?

We have received fantastic support from Scotland for the 2012 Olympics and have been in dialogue with the Scottish Executive on all the issues, without exception. We will continue to hold that dialogue, as we have received first-class support, and we will discuss any decisions that are made.

I am sure that the Minister will accept that many good causes that receive lottery funding help to alleviate the burden on the state in various ways—the South Warwickshire carers support service in my constituency is a good example. Does he therefore accept that if some of those good causes lose lottery funding, the state will bear the burden and that that would be completely unacceptable if it were the result of further overspending on the Olympics because the Government got their sums wrong?

I am not prepared to answer hypothetical questions at the Dispatch Box. I have said very clearly that discussions are under way between the Government and the Mayor’s office on how we can deal with that overspend. Until those decisions are made, such questions are hypothetical.

Does the Minister agree with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and the director of the Big Lottery Fund in Scotland that good causes and grass-roots sports could be threatened to the point of closure if the lottery is further plundered? Is it not absurd and unfair that homelessness projects and children’s care groups in Scotland should lose out to pay for the redevelopment of London’s east end?

We have heard all that rhetoric before from the hon. Gentleman on a number of issues connected to the Olympics. May I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) about hypothetical questions? Decisions on funding the £900 million overspend, which was discussed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the Select Committee hearing, have not yet been made. Until they are, such questions are hypothetical.

Perhaps I could ask the Minister a question that he will not regard as hypothetical. According to the Big Lottery Fund, the voluntary and community sector will lose more than £300 million if the lottery is used to make up the current £900 million Olympic budget overrun. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will be concerned to learn that that would result in an average loss of up to £700,000 to charities and good causes in every constituency. What assurances can the Minister therefore give charities up and down the country that face closure if, as a result, their lottery funding is axed?

The hon. Gentleman knows that that was part of the agreement for funding the Olympics. It is not just the Big Lottery Fund but across the spectrum of the lottery—

I hear from a sedentary position that that makes it worse. The decision to provide £1.5 billion to fund the lottery was not opposed by the Opposition. The Scottish National party—and I have answered its objections—made it quite clear that it does not want the Olympics, full stop. That is on the record, and I remember it being said. Let us park that on the side, as that is an honourable position from Scotland. The SNP may not want the Olympics—that is fine. However, the point is that there was all-party agreement about funding. The memorandum of understanding was put to the House via the Select Committee and was not challenged at the time. We have done no more and no less than what we set out in the memorandum of understanding with respect to the funding of the 2012 Olympic games.

It would help if the Minister confined himself to answering questions that he had been asked, rather than questions that he has not been asked. We, like other hon. Members, have been contacted by dozens of good causes that face a bleak future owing to the Government’s reckless raiding of the lottery. It is worth remembering that the Olympics were won on the basis of cross-party co-operation, but regrettably the Government are keeping us all in the dark about the new budget and the impact that it will have on the lottery. Is it not high time that the Secretary of State and her Ministers admitted that she has lost control of the figures and opened the books up to full public scrutiny?

If there was any substance to the hon. Gentleman’s questions, he might lose the tag “rent-a-quote”, because that is what we increasingly hear from the Opposition, particularly from him. There is no substance behind his questions, and we see that also more and more in the newspapers, especially on a Sunday morning. I say again that we have done nothing more with the lottery than was agreed by the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson), who is giggling like a public schoolboy. We have done nothing more than was stated in the memorandum of understanding that was presented to the Select Committee and reported back to the House. The sum of £900 million is still under discussion in Government and will be discussed with the Mayor’s office. When we have reached a decision, we will report to the House and to the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly Government.