HL Deb 16 October 2000 vol 617 cc662-5

2.47 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have confidence in the decision-making processes of the National Lottery Commission.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the decision-making processes of the National Lottery Commission are matters for the commission rather than for Ministers. Noble Lords will know that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport last week appointed the noble Lord, Lord Burns, to the National Lottery Commission. The Secretary of State made it clear that we have every confidence that the noble Lord will be able to assist the current licensing process through to a proper and timely conclusion.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, while I welcome the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, may I ask the Minister whether he agrees that the remaining commissioners are now so discredited that they should resign? After all, a High Court judge has found them to have acted so unfairly as to amount to an abuse of power.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we need to be absolutely clear about what the High Court judge found. Apart from his comment that he had no doubt that the commission was trying to be fair, he stated that it had kept the principle of fairness carefully in mind throughout the ITA procedure, subject to one possible hiccup. He then went on to say that there was every reason to believe that, in deciding how to proceed thereafter, the commission still intended to act with scrupulous fairness.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a distinct possibility that, if the lottery commission remains in place, a court action is liable to ensue from the loser of the final contest? This may lead to a hiatus: the lottery may have to stop and then start up again, with all that that implies—losses incurred by good causes and retailers all around the country? Can the noble Lord tell the House whether that is not now a real possibility unless the entire lottery commission resigns?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, no one can say that there is no possibility of any further court action. A great deal of money is involved, and the noble Viscount is quite right to say that one cannot rule out the possibility that a loser might go to the courts. However, I do not think that that follows from any criticism of individual lottery commissioners.

Lord Rix

My Lords, even though I am surrounded by the current and past chairmen of the lottery commission, I have the temerity to ask the Minister why the Government do not say farewell to the lottery commission, to Camelot and to the People's Lottery and appoint a government agency culled from the best management brains of the current operator and the putative operator? They could pay Civil Service salaries, which would be taken from the tax levied by the Government on the lottery, and pass over all the management charges—which are enormous—to good causes.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Prime Minister said a few weeks ago that he recognised, with hindsight, that perhaps the Government were not best qualified to run visitor attractions. I rather think that the same may apply to a lottery. Running a lottery requires a great deal of specialised knowledge which, historically and throughout the world, has been available only from firms and consortia of firms within the private sector.

Lord Morris of Manchester

My Lords, while lottery funding for big projects always catches the headlines, National Lottery help for small charities can be crucially important to their success. Can my noble friend assure them today that, notwithstanding recent wrangling, any changeover will be, as it were, seamless and on time?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Government are confident that we shall bring the current licensing process to a conclusion in time for there not to be a interregnum. Camelot has indicated that if there were to be a delay it would use its best endeavours to cover any intervening period. My noble friend is entirely right: some 71,000 projects have benefited from the almost £10 billion available from the National Lottery, many of which were the kind of small projects to which my noble friend refers.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I speak as a former chairman of a statutory commission. Does the Minister agree that every statutory commission is conscious of the dangers of a judicial review? Does he further agree that no statutory commission reaches a decision without the full support of its whole membership? In my experience, the chairman of a statutory commission never makes a decision on his or her own. In view of that, should we draw a pleasant gloss over this situation and say that there has been unfairness? If I and my colleagues had been faced with a judgment such as this while I was chairman of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, we would have resigned. Does the Minister feel that it is an indictment of statutory commissions that they should hang on like limpets on a rock?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said about his own responsibilities. Clearly under the law enacted by the previous government and by this Government, the responsibility of the members of the commission is not a matter for Ministers. I do not accuse any noble Lords—still less the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington—of bias on this matter, but it seems to me that much of the press comment has been very sexist. It has been based on the fact that three of the commissioners are women who are being accused of lacking business experience. That is not only untrue but sexist.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, I think that the Minister has just flown a kite. His reply was not up to his usual standard. Will the new chairman be acting properly if he let it be known privately to members of the commission that he would like their resignations? Would he be entitled to do so?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, will have seen the interview with the Secretary of State in an article in the Independent on Sunday yesterday, in which he made it clear that membership of the commission is the responsibility of the Secretary of State, but that if the noble Lord, Lord Burns, felt inclined to make recommendations to him about the membership of the commission, he would be guided by the noble Lord.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, does the Minister see a valid line to be drawn between the chairman of the commission and those members who have not followed her example and resigned?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not know, my Lords. I do not know the way in which the commission reached its decision. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, gave testimony of the way in which one commission acted, but I have no knowledge of the internal decision-making processes of the National Lottery Commission.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, will my noble friend ask those responsible to look at the allegations that the lottery basically is a tax on the working class for the benefits and pleasures of the middle class?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I have heard my noble friend's accusations on a number of occasions and I have tried to answer his question; but it is virtually an unknowable statistic. We know where the money for the National Lottery comes from; we know by social class who buys the tickets; but it is impossible to say where the money goes to in terms of social class.

Lord McNally

My Lords, do not some of the origins of the present mess lie in the fiction with which the Conservative government approached the lottery—namely, that it was different from gambling and therefore needed a different regulator and a different department looking after it? Can the Minister assure the House that, as he starts on his task, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, will take advice from the Gaming Board and the Home Office, where there is expertise about selecting proper people to run gambling?

Lord McIntosh

My Lords, it would be inappropriate for me to stand between the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Lord, Lord Burns.

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