Bottomley rules out change to lottery

Inside Parliament: National Heritage Secretary rejects criticisms by the churches t Cunningham attacks Camelot's 'licence to print money'
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Indy Politics
Virginia Bottomley yesterday set herself against any of the changes to the Lottery mooted by the churches and others alarmed at its effect on the national psyche and the pounds 1m a week profits of its operators.

The National Lottery "truly is the Dream Machine", the Heritage Secretary effused in the Commons. She plays it as a member of a family syndicate, basks in the glow of its awards to charities and, to judge by her performance in the Labour-initiated debate, she believes it a first-rate political weapon.

"Labour's line on the lottery is simple - snuff out success, punish profit and cheat the good causes of the deal they deserve," she said. The rhetoric was unchanged from her years as health secretary and so was her tactic of bombarding the House with statistics.

The National Lottery had changed the face of funding in the arts, sport and heritage, she insisted. More than pounds 586m had already been awarded to 2,111 projects and over the next seven years the total contribution to good causes was expected to be over pounds 9bn. Ridiculing the notion that huge prizes had brought misery to the winners, Mrs Bottomley said that out of about 280 wins, only 18 had been for more than pounds 5m and many jackpots were shared by syndicates of up to 20 people.

"How many of those 18 have been made miserable by the experience we do not know. We can guess that there are many more people willing to change places with them."

One such was Labour backbencher Tony Banks who foresaw no difficulty in adjusting to being filthy rich. "After all, enough Tories have managed it, and I see no reason why I couldn't do the same - it would be pina coladas all round."

Mrs Bottomley rejected Labour's call for the lottery to be run a "not- for-profit" basis when Camelot's seven-year contract runs out. And as for capping the jackpot at pounds 1m, proposed by the churches and the Liberal Democrats conference, she said that in the weeks when the jackpot had rolled-over, sales had increased by 10-20 per cent. "Capping the prizes and cutting the fun is the route to equal distribution of very little," she said.

Tory John Sykes, MP for Scarborough, urged her to "ignore the sanctimonious claptrap" from the churches.

If fortune did not exactly shine on Mrs Bottomley in last July's Cabinet shuffle, her new opposite number, Jack Cunningham, has had even less luck. Voted off the Shadow Cabinet last week, Mr Cunningham graciously accepted the Secretary of State's tongue-in-cheek commiserations. "As a life-long supporter of Newcastle United, I am well used to dealing with both triumph and disaster. It is just that the disasters have been too frequent recently."

He said Camelot had been given one licence to print tickets and another to "print money". And he maintained the 1993 legislation setting up the Lottery gave Mrs Bottomley power to vary the company's take without waiting for the end of its contract.

Mr Cunningham proposed a "Talent Fund" to help young athletes, musicians, artists, scientists, inventors and designers who at present struggled on alone or with just parental help. It was one of the few areas where Mrs Bottomley agreed, likening the idea to an initiative she will be announcing on Monday from the Millennium Commission to develop individual potential.

David Mellor, former heritage secretary and a self-proclaimed architect of the lottery, warned the Government not to increase the amount of tax taken. Currently, the Treasury skims 12 per cent from the lottery, but Mr Mellor said it originally had "ambitions" for more.

The lottery was already "a nice little earner for our Ken", he said - an estimated pounds 500m so far plus corporation tax on Camelot's profits.

But he went on: "One gathers there are senior figures in the Treasury who still bear the bruises of what they regard as a defeat in failing to get a tax rate that was higher.

"And if anyone should have it in contemplation to introduce a higher tax rate in the forthcoming Budget, I really must urge them to think again. In the history of own goals, that would merit a chapter all on its own."

For the Liberal Democrats, David Alton claimed the lottery was targeted at people in poorer areas who thought that somehow they could escape their situations."It builds up an element of hysteria and frenzy, with prizes as massive as pounds 17m. People don't look at the odds against winning, so vast numbers of people pay massive amounts of money."

The torment of the slippery pole of office so fresh in Mr Cunningham's mind plainly still haunts Jeremy (the Gaffe) Hanley, the former Tory party chairman who slid from the Cabinet last July. Referred to by a Labour backbencher during Foreign Office questions as the "Under-Secretary", Mr Hanley sniffed that he was a minister of state, then added: "However, knowing the direction of my recent career it may just be a matter of time."

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