HC Deb 18 December 1995 vol 268 cc1205-7
2. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what proposals she has to increase the contribution of the national lottery to charities. [4633]

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)

The national lottery has exceeded expectations with the huge contribution that it has made to charities. I can today announce that it has raised the magnificent sum of more than £1.3 billion for the good causes fund. More than 3,500 lottery awards, totalling more than £825 million, have been made to projects throughout the country. More than 75 per cent. of all awards made so far have been to charitable or voluntary sector bodies. Today there have been a further 128 awards, including 88 to caring charities in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Marshall

While everyone recognises the great success of the national lottery, does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a feeling about that the director general of Oflot has been guilty of surprising errors of judgment and that too little of the national lottery money goes to genuine charities by comparison with high-falutin' causes, to which there have been too many awards?

Mrs. Bottomley

The distribution of resources from the national lottery has nothing whatever to do with the director general of Oflot. That system was, of course, set up by Parliament. The caring charities have now received 1,409 awards, and that is only the beginning. The lottery has exceeded expectations in the amount of money that it has raised and caring charities have undoubtedly benefited—including Barnardos with £600,000, Arthritis Care with £481,000 and, on Friday, the Pre-School Playgroups Association in Wales with £427,000.

Dr. John Cunningham

Given that the National Lottery etc. Act places on the director general a number of overriding public duties—first, to maximise the net proceeds for distribution from the lottery and, secondly, to secure that the lottery is run with all due propriety—does the Secretary of State think that the director general of Oflot is fulfilling those duties? Is it not time that she laid down a code of practice for the director general and his staff and published it so that anyone can know what is expected of them? Does she recognise that if she allows Mr. Davis to remain in his post many people across Britain will be astonished?

Mrs. Bottomley

The right hon. Gentleman is correct that the duty of the director general of Oflot is three-fold: to maximise the return for good causes; to ensure that those who play the lottery are protected; and to ensure that the lottery is run with all due propriety. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the National Audit Office report, which commended the process of evaluation of applicants for the licence. On that occasion, it described the work of the director general of Oflot in very high terms as being

comprehensive, consistent, logical and properly controlled. Subsequent events have been discussed at very great length by the Public Accounts Committee last Monday. The right hon. Gentleman and the House will be aware that my Department received a preliminary report from Mr. Davis on those matters. Officials have discussed the subject with him this morning. I need to consider the issues raised carefully. I do not intend to take precipitate action. It would be inappropriate and unfair to say more about the matter today. I shall, however, report to the House in due course.

Mr. Tim Smith

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the NAO report shows that the director general of Oflot evaluated the applications for the licence to run the national lottery in an exemplary manner? Does she also agree that although he may have been guilty of some misjudgment, that is absolutely no reason to demand his resignation?

Mrs. Bottomley

It is my understanding that the National Audit Office clearly said that the director general acted throughout the process in accordance with the statutory duties placed upon him. He has been extremely rigorous and thorough, he has kept detailed notes of all events, and he has been entirely open in discussion with the Public Accounts Committee and with my officials.

Mr. Kaufman

Given the serious potential for corruption that exists as a result of the vast sums of money with which the national lottery is and will continue to be awash, is it not clear that the whole basis of the national lottery as a privatised monopoly is unacceptable? Is it not also clear that when Camelot's licence expires in 2001 the lottery should be operated in the public sector—with the huge profits going to the public and not to private enterprise—and that if elements of the potential for corruption continue, Camelot's licence should be revoked early?

Mrs. Bottomley

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the regulatory structure for the lottery was agreed by Parliament. I cannot share the right hon. Gentleman's belief that matters operated by the public sector are necessarily operated more effectively or more efficiently. I am reminded that in the past we subsidised nationalised industries to the tune of £50 million per week. The taxpayer now benefits from the profits of privatised industries to the tune of £50 million per week.

So far as I am aware, our lottery is the most effective and efficient anywhere in the world. With the right hon. Gentleman, I want to ensure that it retains the absolute confidence of all those who participate in it.

Sir Michael Shersby

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have just seen a remarkable demonstration of the Labour party's real objection to the whole issue of the lottery—the fact that Camelot makes a profit? Does she further agree that there is not a shred of evidence to show that Mr. Davis acted either corruptly or improperly, and that what we have seen over the past two days has been a disgraceful attempt to impugn the reputation of a distinguished and reputable accountant who has carried out his duties to the full satisfaction of the National Audit Office? Will my right hon. Friend take that into account when she considers the matter?

Mrs. Bottomley

I will indeed note my hon. Friend's comments carefully. I am aware of no suggestions of dishonesty about Mr. Davis. I have heard only that his reputation on professional matters is consistently and highly regarded.

Mr. Alan Williams

It is a week since Mr. Davis indicated in answers that he had taken free trips from a company that he is supposed to be monitoring. The Minister will have been aware of that within hours. Why, a week later, is she is still saying that she cannot make up her mind whether he should go or stay? Most considered opinion is that the man should go—not for dishonesty, but for sheer lack of judgment.

Mrs. Bottomley

It is not my view that a knee-jerk reaction is appropriate in the circumstances. We have an extremely successful and competitive lottery that is highly regarded around the world. I have made it clear that I will report to the House when I have had time to consider the details involved.