HC Deb 18 December 1995 vol 268 cc1216-7
11. Mr. Pope

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans she has to make changes in the distribution of funds from the national lottery. [4645]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

The national lottery is a great success. I am prepared to consider modifications to build on that success. Specifically, I am keen to ensure that the funds that it produces are used to maximise the range of facilities and the number of opportunities for people throughout the country.

Mr. Pope

Will the Secretary of State review the operation of the millennium fund? The minimum grant of £100,000 effectively disfranchises many small towns and organisations from bidding for projects. What is the point in having funding for projects of local significance when, in many parts of the country, the effect of the £100,000 threshold is that many smaller organisations cannot bid?

Mrs. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman is aware that the Millennium Commission has a minimum award of £100,000, but many of its projects are umbrella projects which bring together smaller schemes. The groundwork trust projects, the millennium forests and the 2,500 miles of cycle track affect and serve many parts of the country. The other distributing bodies make much smaller grants. That is the view of the Millennium Commission to date, but I shall discuss with my fellow commissioners whether we should modify the rule in the near future.

Finally, the Millennium Commission is consulting on millennium awards and a way of investing in people as well as in capital. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will ensure that organisations which they think could take up the opportunity respond to the consultation process.

Mr. John Greenway

Will my right hon. Friend consider altering the rules to allow lottery funds to support regional opera productions? Lottery funding supports film productions, but not opera productions. It is difficult to see how some regional opera houses— particularly touring opera productionshouses—will benefit from lottery distribution that is only for capital expenditure. Touring opera companies visit many theatres throughout the midlands and the north of England in particular, and sponsoring opera production would assist many regional companies to expand their programmes and their audience appeal.

Mrs. Bottomley

It is only early days for the national lottery. The rules established for the early phase have been in operation for only 10 months and we did not start making awards until last March. It is quite remarkable that 3,530 awards have been made during that time, including 638 in the arts field.

I am having discussions with the chairman of the Arts Council and the other distributing bodies on whether we could introduce sensible modifications to make the lottery even more successful. I am mindful of my hon. Friend's comments that funding for the arts is a partnership process. Business and local authority sponsorship, the contribution that people make through the box office, taxpayers' contributions and the lottery awards must make sense as a coherent whole.