Pressure mounts for review of lottery spending

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The Treasury is intensifying pressure on Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage, for changes to the National Lottery to spread more widely the pounds 1bn it has raised for good causes.

A number of Tory constituencies have tabled motions for the annual Conservative Party conference next month criticising the way the money is being spent. It follows widespread criticism at the purchase of the Churchill papers from his grandson, Winston Churchill, Tory MP for Davyhulme, and funding for sports facilities for Eton College.

Epping Forest Tories have tabled a motion calling for Mrs Bottomley to review the guidelines to "spread the prize money more widely and to increase the number of charities receiving the funding".

There is also criticism from grass-roots Tories at the size of the payouts on the lottery and scratch cards, which critics fear may be addictive. South Belfast Tories call for smaller jackpots and limitations on scratch cards.

South Thanet Tories welcome the lottery for "bringing a little fun and pleasure into the lives of many people" but call on Mrs Bottomley to reorganise the committee allocating charity money to "include a wider cross-section" of people.

Mrs Bottomley is hoping that the criticism will be deflected by major announcements of funding to be made for charities in the near future, but the criticism could prove embarrassing.

She is also facing pressure from the Treasury to change the rules to allow the money to be used for running costs for schemes. She is resisting that pressure because of fears that the Treasury may be using it to cut public expenditure.

The Secretary of State will tell the conference in her keynote speech that the lottery has been a success. Whitehall sources said she was against a cap on jackpots. "Caps have been imposed in other countries, and they have been removed because turnover drops. We are not going to do that," said one.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, yesterday distanced himself from the motion passed by his own party conference calling for caps on jackpots and scratch cards to be scrapped. He hinted it will not be included in his party's election manifesto. "I do not wish the Liberal Democrats to become interferers in the privacy of people's lives and their own private choices," he said.

The overwhelming popularity of the lottery has made all the parties wary of changing the rules, for fear of being called "killjoys". But there is concern about its operation, particularly the way the money is spent.

Chris Smith, shadow Secretary for National Heritage, who called for a limit of pounds 5m on payouts to individuals, has written to all Labour MPs asking for their views. He will propose changes following the consultation, including whether more money should be spent on charities, who have complained at a dramatic loss of income.

He is also asking MPs whether more money should be spent on running costs, rather than buildings. At the moment, lottery money can only be spent on capital schemes, but even some within the Heritage Department acknowledged yesterday that it could lead to "white elephants" which groups could not afford to keep open.

Sources close to Mrs Bottomley said she was not considering any changes to the system at this stage. But she will face demands at the party conference for changes in the way the money is spent.

Bournemouth West Tories, while backing the lottery, call for more money to be directed to schemes "which are most likely to raise the quality of life for people throughout the country".