Churchill papers purchase was `vital'

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Lord Rothschild, chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, yesterday defended himself against charges of squandering lottery money on the pounds 13m purchase of the Churchill archive.

The decision last May to buy the papers from the war leader's family, including the Tory MP Winston Churchill, was one of the first grants by the NHMF, which distributes lottery money for heritage projects.

Lord Rothschild came under attack from some members of the Heritage Select Committee. Joe Ashton, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, said that there had been some doubt whether Winston Churchill, Sir Winston's grandson, was the legal owner of the archive.

"Surely people who spent money on lottery tickets would not have wanted their money to end up in the pockets of Churchill's grandson?" he asked. "There are things in national life which are somehow sacred icons in this country. We helped save the first letters Nelson wrote with his left hand and Wellington's dispatch from the Battle of Waterloo," Lord Rothschild replied.

The select committee disagreed about the value of the purchase. John Maxton, Labour MP for Cathcart, told Lord Rothschild: "You were right to spend that money on acquiring the Churchill papers, but you never should have had to. It was a disgrace that any member of the family should have demanded money for the papers."