HC Deb 16 December 2002 vol 396 cc521-3
6. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

When she next expects to meet representatives of village communities to discuss lottery funding for local projects. [85574]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell)

The lottery review has provided an opportunity for representatives of village communities to put forward their concerns about the lottery funds for local and rural projects. I welcome their representations and would be happy to meet them once the representations, which I gather have been submitted, have been considered.

Mr. Bellingham

Does the Secretary of State agree that some ridiculous and undeserving organisations have received substantial amounts of money? For example, the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns has received £740,000 to mount legal challenges against her Home Office colleagues while all the time deserving organisations in my constituency—local groups and parish groups—are being turned down. What will she do to ensure that the community fund changes its priorities? What will she do to get a grip on it?

Tessa Jowell

I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman wants to associate himself with the nasty campaign against the community fund. I draw his attention to the fact that since 1995, it has awarded £109 million for building, extending and improving more than 2,200 village halls as part of £645 million that has been given to projects in rural areas. That is good constructive work, using lottery money to do the things that people want. It does neither the hon. Gentleman nor the Opposition any service at all to make that cheap point.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

I am delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend will be meeting representatives of village communities, but may I urge her not just to think of villages as being places in rural areas? There are villages in former mining constituencies, many of which share the characteristics of rural constituencies, such as difficulties with access and, in particular, in attracting lottery funding. I urge her to keep under constant review the question of how we can fairly make more money available to former mining constituencies.

Tessa Jowell

As ever, my hon. Friend is speaking up for the interests of his constituents, who have benefited from his advocacy and, with other villages in coalfield communities, from the increased lottery allocation of which he will be aware. One of our concerns about the way in which the lottery operates is that village communities may find themselves falling between two or perhaps three different distributors when seeking lottery funds, and one of the tests of the review will be how effective it is in tackling such bureaucracy.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

The Secretary of State's appalling answer to the legitimate concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) on behalf of his constituents will be unacceptable to my constituents. I have been besieged by letters from them protesting about the fact that a valuable village community centre has failed to get a grant from the community fund because it does not provide facilities for asylum seekers. If the Secretary of State wants to dismiss the concerns of millions of British citizens about the community fund's appalling decisions, she will rue the day. The Home Secretary has attacked one of those decisions—

Mr. Speaker


Tessa Jowell

We have heard a rant from a spokesman for the nasty party. The point remains that 5 per cent., or £12 million, of community fund grants go to asylum seekers, and those broad allocations were approved by the Government. As I have already made clear to the House, there has also been major investment in rural communities, as there should be. The community fund exists to serve communities of all kinds in all parts of the country; that is what we expect it to do and that is what it will do.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the new opportunities fund has significantly underspent its funding from rounds 1 and 2, it is rumoured by as much as £200 million? As that money was taken from the original good causes such as the community fund, whose funds are now even more depleted as a result of falling ticket sales, and as it is Christmas, will the Secretary of State consider returning some of that money to the original good causes for more community projects? It is not that there have not been any such projects, but many applications are turned down because of a lack of money. We need more community projects such as village halls and grass-roots sports clubs. That is not an unreasonable request.

Tessa Jowell

I would certainly like to see more money going into grass-roots sports facilities and into the communities on whose behalf Members on both sides of the House have been making representations.

I do not recognise the figures that the hon. Gentleman has just quoted. He may be confusing money committed by the community fund with money that is part of the income stream. I shall certainly look at the figures. In answer to his broad point, I am absolutely determined that the level of lottery balances will fall; the present level is unacceptably high. However, we have to distinguish clearly between money that has been committed but not yet spent by the projects concerned, and money that is available. That argument may be a touch too sophisticated for many of those on the Opposition Benches.