Chief Political Correspondent
The position of Peter Davis as the National Lottery regulator appeared virtually untenable last night after it was revealed that he had ignored a government warning when he accepted free flights from a company involved in running the lottery.
The latest revelation came after a day in which Mr Davis fought to hold on to his pounds 84,000-a-year post, and Tory MPs mounted an effort to defend him. But last night some MPs said the latest disclosures in a written Commons answer by Virginia Bottomley could seal his fate.
The Secretary of State for National Heritage sidestepped demands for his sacking by Opposition MPs when she faced questions in the Commons. "It is not my view that a knee-jerk reaction is appropriate," she said.
Labour MPs said she had left Mr Davis "swinging in the wind" but she later disclosed to Alan Williams, the Labour MP who first uncovered the free flights at a select committee hearing last night, that Mr Davis had gone on the flights against official advice.
Opposition leaders said Mr Davis had been guilty of misjudgement, rather than corruption, but his position was untenable. Mrs Bottomley revealed that her department's officials told the director general not to accept any free flights or accommodation from GTECH, the US company supplying the equipment for the National Lottery organisers, Camelot, before he went to the United States.
"In August 1994, in discussing the director general's proposed US trip, officials of my department advised that the director general would need to ensure that all due propriety was observed and that the cost of flights and accommodation should be borne by Oflot and not their hosts," Mrs Bottomley said.
Mr Davis admitted last Monday, under cross-examination by Mr Williams, at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, that he had taken five free flights across the United States in a private jet owned by GTECH. Mrs Bottomley said her department had known about the flights for only a week before it was revealed at the select committee by Mr Davis.
But she went on to say in the written answer that Oflot was a non-ministerial department and therefore responsible "for implementing its own hospitality and travel arrangements taking into account the principles and rules set out in the civil service management code". She added that Oflot was under no obligation to clear with, "or inform my department, about their detailed arrangements".
A spokesman for Oflot denied Mr Davis had put his job in doubt by flouting instructions from national heritage officials. He said it was up to Mr Davis whether he took their advice. "In effect they can't dictate what he does because Oflot is run separately from national heritage."
The Oflot spokesman said Mr Davis had no plans to meet Mrs Bottomley personally. "She will be talking to her permanent secretary. No meeting has been pencilled in."
Mr Williams said she had created a "rogue elephant" with Oflot, which was not directly answerable to her for its actions. She may announce her decision about Mr Davis's future today, after speculation that she was taking her time to ensure that she was not leaving herself open to legal challenge.
Mr Davis made it clear he would not go voluntarily. After meeting Mrs Bottomley's senior officials yesterday to explain his conduct, Mr Davis said: "I see no reason to resign."
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