Bottomley chases full portfolio

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Virginia Bottomley, the new Secretary of State for National Heritage, has not yet been made chairman of the Millennium Commission.

Mrs Bottomley said yesterday: "I would very much like this to be part of my portfolio. But we will have to wait and see."

The commission has been chaired by the last two Secretaries of State, and it was assumed the chair would automatically pass to Mrs Bottomley.

But the Independent understands that the position is complicated by the elevation of Michael Heseltine to Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Heseltine sits on the commission, and he may become the next chairman rather than Mrs Bottomley, even though chairing the commission would have been an important part of her portfolio.

The Millennium Commission will have pounds 1.2bn of lottery money over the next five years to give to projects that will celebrate Britain in 2000. Last month, it was at the centre of a controversy when the Independent revealed that the then Heritage Secretary Stephen Dorrell had stunned commission members by offering to consult Cabinet colleagues on millennium projects, even though the Government was not supposed to intervene on the choice.

Yesterday, a commission spokesman said that Mr Dorrell would be continuing as commission chairman until the Prime Minister made a new decision. He added that the Prime Minister and the Queen had to agree the appointment.

At a photocall in her new department yesterday, Mrs Bottomley described herself as "not an expert but an enthusiast" on the arts. Anxious to avoid her predecessor's gaffe of being unable to remember the last film he had seen, she was quick to point out that her last visit to the cinema had been to see Four Weddings and a Funeral.

She had never bought a lottery ticket, she confessed, but her daughter was an avid participant, and she was part of the family consortium. She stressed the need for school trips to cultural events, explaining that she had grown to love opera as a child after being taken on school outings to Sadler's Wells.

She and her family did watch television, she said, particularly news and sport, but she was concerned about a "generation of couch potatoes" growing up, and urged schools to redress the balance. "I would like to do more to extend an understanding of art, of music, and of literature throughout our schools."

However, she added that she thought that because of television, children today were better informed than ever. Their knowledge of events in Rwanda and Bosnia showed this.