Tuesday, 30 April 2013
National Lottery Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Resumed)
A separate question was raised in regard to the retailers. I already indicated on Second Stage that I intend to protect the retailers' commission. This will be written into the licence.
The very fact that Senator Reilly's amendment has been ruled out of order highlights what I am going to talk about on the next section. This money does not go to good causes at all; it goes to the Exchequer for Government decision as to how it is spent. The fact we cannot put down an amendment to direct that it goes to a good cause because it would be a charge on the Exchequer proves the point that I have been making time and again in this debate, namely, no good causes are actually ring-fenced. It is all to do with a decision of the Government as to how it spends money out of the Exchequer, because the money that is supposedly for good causes goes from the lottery to the Exchequer and will continue to go the same route. This is specifically provided for in section 44, which refers to moneys being paid into the Central Fund and the Government then making a decision. Therefore, Senator Reilly cannot table her amendment. It gives the lie to the whole notion of good causes, because if the money was ring-fenced for good causes the Opposition could certainly table an amendment. I have tried to highlight this issue time and again but it never seems to get traction.
This whole idea that good causes were ever ring-fenced is not true. Good causes could never be provided for. The money from the lottery that was supposed to go to good causes goes straight into the Exchequer, or Central Fund, and can be spent by the Government under any of the headings. As I understand it, applying moneys under heading (d), health and the community, would not stop the Government from using good causes money to plug a deficit in the Department of Health. I am not sure there is any particular requirement that the money must not become capital expenditure, although the Minister could disabuse me of that notion. As I understand it, this money might even make up a shortfall in wages in the Department. The heading on the natural environment was inserted into the legislation for very good reasons. However, as I understand it, there will be nothing whatsoever to prevent the Government or the Minister, Deputy Hogan, from paying for a sewerage scheme out of good causes money, as it is an aspect of the natural environment.
It could possibly be a good cause for a rural area but I am sure it is not what people had in mind when they were planning this, although perhaps it is. The money can be used for any such other objectives that the Government may determine from time to time, so the money could be put into any Department. I am not suggesting this is something new-----
I am not suggesting this is something new or that the Government is changing the system radically, because it is not. This has always been the case and the Government from time to time decides it will spend the money on what one would imagine are good causes, such as a specific grant scheme for sports or buses for the elderly or the disabled through the Department of Health. If he wants, the Minister can tell me I am totally wrong, but I do not believe I am too far wrong.
One way to open the whole system up would be to provide that every decision to grant money for good causes be published in Iris Oifigiúil, which I understand is not currently the case. I am not trying to take the political glory away from Government Deputies, as it is part of the scene that they can make these announcements when in government, and that is fine.
We could be, eventually, but I hope not yet. Officially, there should be some record, at some point after everyone makes their local announcements, to show where the money is spent. If it is just being spent on sewerage or health facilities that should really be paid for out of general taxation, while that may be for the good of the community, it is not what people would imagine when talking about good causes. They would have assumed it meant, for example, a specific cancer nurse providing a specific service funded by the national lottery, but I do not believe that is the way it operates in practice. I invite the Minister to enlighten me and tell me I am wrong. If he does, I will withdraw what I said.
Section 44, which we have not reached yet, states that moneys are paid into the Central Fund by the national lottery. The Government then "shall", not might, apply that money for particular purposes, and the purposes are then listed in the Bill - for example, sport, national culture, the arts or health. I added "natural environment" at the request of Members of the other House, where a coherent case was made for that.
The system is transparent in that every year there is reporting of what the national lottery moneys are spent on and one can put down a question to any Minister about what lottery money is applied to in his or her Department. It is not applied to staff in the Department of Health, needless to say. With regard to the natural environment, I would envisage the funding of pathways, walks and so on. With regard to sport and recreation, we all know the fantastic investment in sports facilities as well as in the arts throughout the country. It is a fairly transparent process. One can ask at the end of every year how the money is distributed and it is certainly not siphoned off to any other purpose because under the law it "shall" be applied for one of the purposes that are listed in the Schedule.
In the Revised Estimates that are published, the Senator will see the expenditure that is funded by the national lottery under every subhead. Could it be applied for some reason? I suppose there is no prohibition on it, if there were some crisis in health funding for the elderly, for example, where we might all agree this is what should be done, particularly given that we have lived through a crisis period. There are rational decisions that can be made at the time. However, if it is not one of the items listed here, we would have to change the law. If it is one of the listed items, it needs to capture the spirit of what is intended. There is transparent publication of where the money is going, so there would be a debate if the allocation of money was deemed to be inappropriate.
Will the regulator have a part to play in this? There has been, up to now, a bit of boundaryless meshing of where lottery moneys come in and where they go, not in a dishonest way but with a general boundarylessness. As I said earlier, there are accusations out there, be they true or not, that certain constituencies get more than others. While I do not mean that in an accusatory way, people have that perception. Having worked in a part of the city that needed lottery funding very badly for 25 years and was often at the bottom of the pile, I want to know if the Minister envisages that the regulator would have a part to play in how these lottery funds were distributed, in fairness and objectivity, which might allay Senator Byrne's fears?
No; I would not envisage a role for the regulator. The lottery regulator's job is to regulate the operation of the lottery, not the distribution of moneys, which must be done in accordance with the law. Everything that is involved in politics is regarded somehow as being open to suspicion. I found-----
I meant suspicion in the sense of particular constituencies being favoured and so on. The bottom line is that at least decisions made by politicians are accountable. One can put down parliamentary questions, call in the Minister or have a committee hearing. Often, we set up boards that are independent, and they are so independent that they are unaccountable. Even in terms of appointments, I find that independent appointment boards are often so independent that there is no rationale for their decisions, or one cannot get behind them. At least with a politician, one can say "Why did you do that?" or "Why is there a preference for one over another?" By and large, there has been a reasonably fair distribution of money. I suppose people sometimes look for political kudos for things that are happening in the natural course anyway, and we are all guilty of that. I believe the system is robust. To answer the question directly, no, I would not give the regulator any role in determining where the money is going. Let us keep that to ourselves in a democratic assembly.
I move amendment No. 13:
I have nothing more to say. I question and oppose the opening up of the national lottery for online gambling. I know it is being done and that it is an upfront payment. We all know that. I am against it and am worried about how one would constrain it and extract the money and how, if one does not constrain it, there is an explosion. That is all I have to say on it. As the giant said when he was leaving the other giant after eight years, my conversation is somewhat limited on this.
In page 23, to delete line 28.
One thing that has concerned me over the past number of years is the business of obtaining a licence or authorisation to sell lottery tickets. There have been some examples of shops that have not been able to get permission to sell lottery tickets. Any time I have made a representation on their behalf, the response has been less than satisfactory, to say the least.
I always thought that this type of protectionism was holding back the lottery and I hope that when the licence goes out this will change and that any able shop will be able to sell lottery tickets in a normal, competitive environment. There have been allegations of favouritism and protectionism. They were never really brought to the surface but were certainly made to me by individual shopkeepers. I hope this area is opened up because how on earth one gets permission to sell lottery tickets as an authorised seller appears to be a mystery. It is quite lucrative and should not be done in the way it used to be done years ago where certain shops were the only ones allowed to sell newspapers and other shops were not newsagents. We are much better off now and I would like to see this area opened up. I just wanted to put that on the record.
This is really a commercial decision for the operator. If it has an agreement with a local shop, it is often very important to the maintenance and sustainability of that shop. The operator must make a commercial decision as to whether it needs to put one next door to it if there are enough in one area and whether we need everybody in the street to be selling them. I think retailers would resist that. I understand from the perspective of pure competition the argument that anybody should be able to do it. I have an open mind on it but it will be a matter for the operator to determine how to sell the product.