Outside Edge: Parliamentary bypass

Don't hold your breath waiting for the second reading of the Lottery Bill. Tash Shifrin says the Government has decided to carry on without it.

Well, well, well. The long-awaited Charities Bill is finally with us and is even being debated in Parliament - albeit by that unelected lot in the Lords.

There are worries, of course, that with a notoriously crowded parliamentary timetable, the Bill may not get through before the Commons packs up for the General Election. Indeed, wrangling over the public benefit test and its application to private schools (Third Sector, 26 February) already looks set to make the Bill's progress slow and painful.

But if you thought that was bad, spare a thought for the legislation that has yet to reach the debating stage - especially the National Lottery Bill, which features measures that will shake up the way cash for good causes is allocated.

The Lottery Bill is important to voluntary organisations, because it affects the distribution bodies from which they are most likely to get funds. It was published in November, a month before the Charities Bill, but has so far cleared only its first reading in the Commons.

For those of you unfamiliar with parliamentary procedure, the first reading of a bill is a mere formality and proceeds without debate. The second reading is when the issue is discussed, but the Lottery Bill does not yet have a date for this timetabled in, which puts it somewhat behind the Charities Bill.

The indefinite delay might, at first, seem welcome to some. After all, the Lottery Bill provides the necessary legislative framework to crunch up the Community Fund - with its treasured open grants programme - and squidge it together with the New Opportunities Fund, which covers government priority areas only, to form the Big Lottery Fund. This is all bad news.

Even worse, the Lottery Bill contains a clause that requires the Big Lottery Fund to comply with directions from Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, specifying "persons to whom the fund may or may not make grants". The Government, in other words, can seize control of lottery cash.

So it does indeed appear to be good news that the Lottery Bill has stalled somewhere in the corridors of Westminster, were it not for one small matter - the fact that the Government has pre-empted Parliament. It has set up the Big Lottery Fund anyway, laying down "themes" for grant allocation and specifying the required "outcomes".

The fund has even had a consultation and announced the results this week.

It seems the Government is not prepared to wait for the little niceties of submitting its plans to parliamentary scrutiny, amendment or voting.

It is getting away with bypassing parliamentary democracy - limited though it may be - and doing what it wants with the lottery cash. We should protest.

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