Robert Skidelsky
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House of Lords: National Lottery Bill 3rd Reading
Robert Skidelsky
Hansard | Monday, March 16, 1998

 
My Lords, as this is my positively last appearance before this Committee of your lordships house, I would like to take the opportunity afforded by the amendment standing in my name to sum up our main criticisms of this Bill.
 
These are three in number.
 
The first concerns the character of the new good cause. This is very different from the others. It is part of the government’s social policy. This has two consequences. First of all, the NOF will be much more directed as to what it should support than the other distributors. The much greater powers which the Secretary of State has taken under this Bill are a direct consequence of the new good cause. The second consequence is that, as I have already said, it is voracious. The government has already announced three initiatives. There are sure to be others added. That is why we expect that the NOF will, over time take a larger and larger share of the total of the National Lottery money available for distribution.
 
Our second criticism arises from the government’s refusal to entrench the share going to the arts, sport, national heritage and the charities.
 
 We together with the Liberal Democrats have repeatedly asked for such entrenchment, and the Minister has always refused. . It is hard to resist the conclusion that the government regards the flow of money to these causes as a residual, the amount of money left over after their prior commitments to the NOF and NESTA have been met.
 
I have read carefully what the Minister had to say this matter. . He promised that ‘barring the extremely unlikely circumstance that lottery income for good causes is less than £10bn in total’ over the seven year current contract period, each of the existing good causes would receive the £1.8bn. they expected when the Lottery started.
 
My Lords, they have already each received £1bn. of this under the legislation of the last government. Of the remaining expected total of £5bn, the National Millennium Commission will get £1bn., and the NOF another £1bn. leaving £800m each for the remaining good causes. So they will lose £200m. each under the new legislation,
 
Admittedly, this is a loss in relation to the expected £10bn. rather than the originally estimated £9bn. So the Minister was able to argue that their original expectation has been left undisturbed. But this is a feeble argument, as my noble friend, Lord Crickhowel pointed out. The original expectations were not for a sum of money but for a percentage. No one knew in 1993 that the money would be £9bn, just as no one can see for certain today that over the next three and a half years the Lottery will have £5bn. to distribute or £4bn. or even £3bn.
 
Suppose the economy slows down or goes into recession. Stranger things have happened even under Labour governments. Is the Minister claiming that in such circumstances people will go on spending the same on the Lottery as they now do? He would be very incautious were he to do so. That is why percentages are at the heart of the matter. The Minister cannot guarantee money, but he can guarantee percentages. And this is what he refuses to do.
 
So let me rephrase my questions. Will the Minister assure us that, in the event of the total for distribution in the next three and a half years falling below what is expected, he will protect the £1.8bn. he has promised the four core good causes? Will he give us an undertaking that in the event of the total for distribution exceeding the expected £10bn. he will ensure that a fair share goes to those good causes?
Thirdly, we criticise the commercial aspects of NESTA. We do not believe that it should become a business angel. It is not set up to second-guess the market, and should not be trying to do so. These arguments have been water off a duck’s back as far as the government is concerned. They will have to live with the consequences.
 
My Lords, what we are witnessing is the ruthless determination of this government to annex for its own purposes money which was originally intend for the arts and leisure activities of this country. We created, through the Lottery a unique opportunity to raise the standard of our civilisation, with benefits stretching well into the next century. The National Lottery Act of 1993 provided an escape from the straitjacket of Treasury accounting. It enabled us to make modest preparations for the good life which it is, after all, the task of economic growth to make possible.
 
Instead of seizing the moment, and running with it, the government now intends to encumber that civilising opportunity with its own largely utilitarian programmes. Who knows how far they will go in 5 or 10 years. That is why we regard the entrenchment of the percentages as vital.
 
 
Finally, My Lords, I come to the subject of this amendment. I have only one thing to add to what I said on Report. It arises directly from what the Minister said. I quote, that ‘carrying the reallocation of the funding back to October 1997 does not affect the total of money reallocated from the existing good causes to the NOF and Nesta’.(9 March, c.31) I am glad at any rate that we got a candid admission that the government has been reallocating money from last October. No fiction about shadow accounts here! The Minister said that had this reallocation not started, the NOF’s share would have had to be set higher and the existing distributors’ share lower than is now the case, to make up for lost time. (9 March, c.29) He asked, what is improper about that?
 
What is improper about it is that NOF were not entitled to receive a penny of the money before this Bill becomes law. Had the government wanted to get the NOF the £1bn. they imprudently promised in their Manifesto, they should have put a higher percentage in this Bill, together with a lower percentage for the existing distributors. That would have been the honest thing to do. It would also have made transparent the extent of their raid on the four core good causes. So I understand why they preferred to do it the way they did.
 
But it is underhand and sets a thoroughly bad precedent. I beg to move.
 
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