HC Deb 20 December 1995 vol 268 cc1533-43 3.30 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if she will make a statement about the conduct of the Director General of Oflot and her decision to retain him in his post.

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)

I met the director general yesterday to discuss the issues surrounding the flights and hospitality that GTech provided for him and his staff on visits in America.

My confidence in the director general remains. There is no doubt about his integrity. He has played a major part in the launch of the highly successful lottery. He was responsible for the conscientious and effective evaluation of bids for the licence to run the lottery. The process was endorsed by the National Audit Office as

comprehensive, consistent, logical and properly controlled", in line with the statutory duties placed on him.

The visits to America took place some months after Oflot awarded the main licence to Camelot. The director general considered with care the issues raised, recorded them thoroughly, and made no attempt to hide them. He declared his interests appropriately. There has been no question of his having sought or received personal gain from the visits that he undertook.

The director general is accountable to Parliament. He is making a full report on his overseas travel and hospitality arrangements to the Public Accounts Committee. He has assured me that there are no other issues that may come to light subsequently which could affect my decision in this matter.

I have told the director general that I do not think that his acceptance of the flights was wise in the context of his role as regulator of the lottery. Within the statutory role that he performs, which is to ensure that the lottery is run with propriety, that the interests of players are protected and, subject to that, that the proceeds for good causes are as great as possible, it is inevitable that he needs to work closely with Camelot. I have told him that this fact makes it all the more important that he should maintain a proper distance from the company and its constituent parts, and be seen to do so, taking all steps to guard against any possible misunderstanding of his actions.

The director general has assured me that, should any issues arise that may lead to a potential conflict with his role as regulator, he will seek guidance from my Department and inform it of the decision that he takes as to how to proceed.

I can inform the House that the director general has announced today that Miss Anne Rafferty QC will head an inquiry into the allegations by Richard Branson against Mr. Guy Snowden of GTech. The inquiry will start in the new year, and the report will be published. The House will be aware that Miss Rafferty was a member of the royal commission into the criminal justice system, chaired by Lord Runciman. She is currently chairman of the Criminal Bar Association and a recorder of the Crown court, sitting in the south-eastern circuit.

Dr. Cunningham

Does the right hon. Lady recognise that her astonishing decision to give Mr. Davis a vote of confidence was rightly met with universal condemnation in the press today? Does she acknowledge that, on Monday, during questions to the Department of National Heritage, she withheld important information about Mr. Davis's disregard of clear advice from her Department? As she twice promised on Monday to report to the House on her decision, in columns 1204 and 1205 of Hansard, why did she then announce her decision in a press statement and not in the Chamber?

It has taken a private notice question to get the right hon. Lady to the Dispatch Box to answer questions on which she assured the House two days ago she would report. In less than three days this week, she has re-established a pitiful record for inconsistency and bad judgment.

Does the right hon. Lady recall that, as recently as Monday of this week, her own departmental officials were briefing the press that Mr. Davis had to go, yet within 24 hours she had confirmed him in his post? As Mr. Davis has brazened out his position and the Secretary of State has backed down, will she now say to whom and on what basis the regulator is accountable? Is it not absurd for Mr. Davis to suggest that he can carry out his public responsibilities for the lottery effectively only if the very organisation he is there to supervise pays his expenses? That is a completely new doctrine of public accountability.

Does the point in the right hon. Lady's letter to Mr. Davis yesterday—that his visits took place after the licence was awarded to Camelot—mean anything at all? Surely it is irrelevant, as his duties and responsibilities to regulate Camelot and GTech persist. She has confirmed him in that post. How can she possibly defend the regulator's conduct when she and her Department specifically advised him against the visits before he undertook them?

Is it not clear that, if the civil service management code applied to Mr. Davis, his position would be completely indefensible? Civil servants are told that they

must not receive gifts, hospitality or benefits of any kind from a third party which might be seen to compromise their personal judgment or integrity. Is that not precisely what Mr. Davis has done? The code goes on to say:

In drawing up and in interpreting their own standards of conduct, departments and agencies must pay full regard to the need for staff to conform and be seen to conform to the principles". Has not Mr. Davis blatantly disregarded those principles? Does that not make it clear that a code of conduct for regulators of private monopoly organisations is now long overdue? Will the right hon. Lady undertake to present such a code to the House without delay?

Has not this whole episode exposed an abysmal lack of judgment, not only by Mr. Davis but by the right hon. Lady herself? Is it not clear from her inadequate response to this private notice question that she apparently has learnt nothing from the events of the past week?

Mrs. Bottomley

The decision was taken only after careful consideration, and an examination of all the facts. It remains the case that Mr. Davis, as the regulator, has overseen the introduction of an incredibly successful lottery—probably the most successful, and the most effectively regulated, anywhere in the world.

There can be no question of withholding information from the House. The right hon. Gentleman is correct: the question of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) was answered at 3.30 pm. I hope that I have been entirely open with the House throughout. Yesterday, at the moment when I sent the letter to Mr. Davis, I also placed a copy in the House, and gave copies to the right hon. Member for Swansea, West and the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

The regulator of Oflot is indeed required to follow the directions for which the National Lottery etc. Act 1993 provides. I issue directions to him under section 11; he is required by section 14 to report annually to the Secretary of State, and I lay his report before Parliament. Indeed, I drew attention to that report at Question Time earlier this year, because it is a thorough, comprehensive and impressive document.

The regulator also answers to the Public Accounts Committee. His performance before that Committee—he replied at length to questions, openly giving information that he had recorded meticulously on all aspects of those questions—was an example of his sense of responsibility and accountability to it. Under section 15 of the Act, the regulator must supply me with any information that I require.

As for the question of advice given to the regulator, it is indeed the case—as I have made clear—that, in general terms, he was advised that he should pay the costs of the hospitality involved in the trip to America. The money used to pay for that trip was provided by Oflot and the taxpayer. In the case of these incidents, the regulator took the view—for operational reasons—that the only way in which he could visit all the different lottery centres and return to work in London in the time provided was to accept GTech's offer.

I do not think that that was wise, but it must be said that—notwithstanding the Labour party's innuendo—it did not constitute an acceptance of gifts: "gifts" implies personal gain, and there is no suggestion of any personal gain in this case. As my hon. Friends are only too aware, the beneficiary was the British taxpayer.

Throughout the affair, there has been no suggestion of the regulator's honesty or integrity being in question. The Labour party's victimisation, pursuit and hounding of a man who has done his job as well as the regulator has demonstrates that it is unfit to govern, now or ever.

Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)

My right hon. Friend had a very difficult decision to make, and no one would have blamed her if she had decided differently. She determined the issue fairly, judiciously and decisively. Are we not lucky to have in the director general a man who has created a most efficient lottery, as yet untainted by corruption? Is it not the case that only those with the languid intellectual self-assurance of the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) would believe that total infallibility is as universal among princes as it is always supposed to be among popes?

Mrs. Bottomley

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. I believe that we should make a considered decision that is right, rather than a rash decision that is wrong. I have weighed all the elements of the case very carefully, and I consider it right to retain confidence in Peter Davis, who has so far done an extremely impressive job.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Will the Secretary of State refrain from implying that the Public Accounts Committee has given Mr. Davis a clean bill of health? Will she recognise that many people would like to know not only whether she was satisfied about the unwisdom of his accepting hospitality and flights from GTech, but whether she has asked any questions of Mr. Davis about the possible unwisdom of involving GTech in the British national lottery when that company in the United States has left a trail of charges in the criminal courts that are in the public domain? Senior officers have been accused of bribery, fraud, corruption and other crimes. Has she or any of her officials done anything to investigate that appalling background to a company that, on the face of it, appears ill suited to be the lead in running a clean national lottery, far from sleaze?

Mrs. Bottomley

I was referring to the National Audit Office report, which commented on Mr. Davis's evaluation of the eight bids to run the national lottery, and on the investigation into all the constituent parts, including whether it was suitable, fit and proper for GTech, as a member of the Camelot bid, to undertake that responsibility. The NAO report said:

the evaluation process was comprehensive, consistent, logical and properly controlled". As for the Public Accounts Committee, what I said was that the director general had given it thorough, open and honest answers at great length, on the basis of information that was carefully recorded and documented. He is a rigorous and thorough individual, which is characteristic of an accountant.

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Are not the Opposition making themselves look trivial and foolish by taking this stand against Oflot's director general? Can there be any justification in attacking the integrity of that decent, honourable and successful man, who was trying only to save the taxpayer money—[Laughter.]—look how they laugh when it is a question of saving the taxpayer money—to no benefit whatever to himself? Can the justification be any more than a determined attempt to destabilise the lottery, which has been an outstanding success, and to undermine the Government with it?

Mrs. Bottomley

Undoubtedly, the Labour party always seeks to resort to personal vilification rather than carefully weighing up the evidence. My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right: the lottery has been a tremendous success. That affronts the Labour party, which loathes success. It would take it away from the operator, cap the prizes and reduce the remarkable amount of money coming through to good causes. Only today, there were another 22 grants from the national heritage memorial fund, which means that 4,600 different projects have benefited from the lottery.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the answer that she says she gave me at 3.30—which, incidentally, I did not receive at 3.30, but that is trivial—was nothing to do with the American flight? It was to do with Australia. Will she also confirm that her fax to me of the letter that was going in the Library was a welcome courtesy, but of no use to 650 other Members, and that it did not allow them or me to ask a question as to a decision on Monday?

Will the right hon. Lady now explain why she told me the day previously in an answer that her Department knew about these flights the week before the Public Accounts Committee hearing, why her accounting officer did not inform the National Audit Office of those flights, and why she did not, as a courtesy, inform the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee about those flights? We are left with a sneaking suspicion that, had it not been for the answer to one question at the PAC meeting, this matter would never have become public.

Mrs. Bottomley

It was neither appropriate nor necessary to take the steps that the right hon. Gentleman describes. My concern is second to none in wishing the lottery's good name to be maintained. It is a successful and well-run lottery. As I have explained to the House, I reported to it as I announced that decision. It was right to bring the uncertainty to an end.

Once I had had the opportunity, not only to discuss the matter with senior officials at my Department, who had spent a great deal of time with the director general, but to speak to him myself, as swiftly as I could, I took the opportunity of informing the right hon. Gentleman and the House, to bring the uncertainty to an end and to allow the director general to get on with his work.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Is it not obvious that Opposition Members detest the tremendous success of the lottery, and would love to overturn it? They cannot succeed in doing that: all they can do is chip around the edges to try to undermine it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the director general is a completely honest man who has done nothing bad, but that, as a distinguished accountant, he has acted more like an accountant than like a judge, which would have been wiser in the distinguished appointment that he occupies?

Mrs. Bottomley

I entirely share my hon. Friend's assessment. The lottery is certainly a great success. The director general's duty is to ensure the propriety of the lottery, to make sure that the interests of those who play are protected, and to maximise the amount for good causes. As my hon. Friend and 4,600 good causes are aware, the results for good causes have exceeded all expectations. I wish to maintain the lottery's good name, and that is the commitment of the director general. I have made it clear, albeit that these incidents took place several months after the award of the licence to Camelot, that his steps were unwise.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Did not the Secretary of State realise from the very beginning that Peter Davis was connected to this dodgy firm in the United States, which is well known for handing out ba[...]khanders to get its own way? That is the firm that he has been cosying up to, and he has been flying here, there and everywhere using its money.

I am drawn to the conclusion reached by somebody, not in the House but out there, one of the people who buy lottery tickets, who said, "What is it Peter Davis knows? How does he manage to save himself from getting the sack? Does he know where the bodies are buried? Does he know about all the lottery fiddles that have been covered up by the Government?" When will this Government learn? They are hanging on to save this man's skin, but as sure as night follows day, like all the rest of them they have defended, in the new year he will have to go, and a different story will have to be told.

Mrs. Bottomley

It saddens me to hear the hon. Gentleman speak in that way on these matters. If I had taken the view that Peter Davis was unfit to continue as the regulator, I would not have hesitated to say so. Having looked fairly and thoroughly at all the evidence, it is my view that he is a proper person to continue with that task, which so far he has undertaken successfully.

I am sure that people "out there" are influenced by repeated comments, such as those made by the hon. Gentleman, which are neither fair nor proper. I understand that Mr. Davis's wife shared childbirth classes with the wife of a director of GTech 20 years ago. That is not a matter that people are required to enter in a register of interests. The hon. Gentleman may understand that.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

Does my right hon. Friend understand that her decision to stand by the director general of Oflot is widely welcomed by Conservative Members, and by the country as a whole? Does she share my sense of revulsion at the attempt by the Labour party to destroy the reputation of an honest public servant for narrow party advantage? What does she think that kind of gutter politics does for the reputation of politicians as a whole?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend speaks exactly the view that I share—that, if someone from outside the public service comes in to take on a position of responsibility, he has as much right as anyone else to be treated fairly on the basis of the facts. I thoroughly scrutinised all aspects of this case, and I believe that it is right for him to continue with the task. Labour's attitude does it no credit at all.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Whether the Minister likes it or not, is not the sad reality that, because of what business people call the "smell factor", Mr. Davis is from now on damaged goods? He will not have the legitimacy and credibility that are necessary for the proper performance of his functions.

Mrs. Bottomley

I think that I have made it clear that he has done an effective job. He has achieved a better result for the national lottery and for good causes than anyone expected. If the Labour party thinks that the decision should be made on the "smell factor", that makes it even less fit for government. People and their jobs and responsibilities should be considered on the basis of the evidence and the facts, and not on the smell from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Was that question from the Opposition not a dreadfully obscene example of blood sports, in pursuit of not a politician but an official who thought that he was doing something good by saving his employer—in this case the taxpayer—expenses?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend encapsulates the situation precisely. Mr. Davis has been competent, effective and successful. I believe that he should continue in his job.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

The Secretary of State may not know it, but she has issued a serious criticism of the director general from the Dispatch Box. She said that he seriously lacked wisdom in this matter. In those circumstances, an honourable person would resign from his position, or it should be her job to remove him. From now on, should not Oflot be called "Offload"?

Mrs. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman did not—I believe—encapsulate the words that I used. What I said was that, in this case, which took place some months after the licence had been awarded, I took the view that it was unwise—albeit there was no personal gain, no lack of honesty or integrity and all aspects were carefully recorded and indeed discussed when questions were asked.

The hon. Gentleman should look carefully at the National Audit Office report, because it is as complimentary an endorsement of the rigour and integrity of the whole process of selection of the operator as any Member could wish to see. The director general of Oflot deserves a great deal of the credit for that successful process.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her courage in not taking the easy way out of this problem. It would have been very easy to ask Mr. Davis for his resignation. Is it right to think that a successful, intelligent and able man should be condemned and forced from a job that he is doing very well because of one instance of something that we might describe as naive?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend speaks for a great number of Members. The decision was not wise, but it has to be seen in the context of somebody undertaking his task extremely successfully and effectively. I should like to quote from a comment made by a former colleague of the director general. It said of Mr. Davis:

He is totally honest and of the highest probity. He is a very meticulous man who writes down everything and all of the expenses he incurs. That certainly coincides with my experience of him.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

Will the right hon. Lady say whether the friendship of 20 years ago was continued, and whether it was known about at the time of the appointment of Camelot?

Hon. Members


Mrs. Bottomley

As my hon. Friends have said, this is becoming McCarthyism of the worst sort. Is the man fit to continue in his role or not? I have said that he retains my confidence, because I believe that he is a man of integrity and honesty. He has always been entirely clear about his past and present acquaintances. There is no evidence that I know of to suggest that the friendship affected his judgment in any way at all. I rely once again on the evidence of the National Audit Office, which gave such a thorough endorsement of his evaluation process of the eight people who bid for the lottery licence.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

My right hon. Friend has earned additional respect on the Conservative Benches for not taking the easy option. Does she not draw parallels with the visits of certain members of the National Heritage Select Committee, including myself and including the Chairman, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), to Tattersall's, the Victoria state lottery in Australia, before the contract was awarded? That involved GTech too. There was no question of impropriety there, and there is no question of impropriety in this case.

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Were the matters to which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) referred a few moments ago known to those who advised Mr. Davis? How long before the visit was that advice given? Has the Secretary of State asked Mr. Davis why that advice was ignored? What was his reply, and why did she find it of overriding significance?

Mrs. Bottomley

Much as I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's question, the process of investigating GTech as a constituent part of the bid for the lottery was thoroughly and rigorously endorsed. I would have to refer back to the question by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) to reply to the hon. Gentleman's question more thoroughly.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

Despite all the innuendoes that have been levelled by Mr. Davis's critics, no one has come up with a shred of concrete evidence of corruption or malpractice. Is it not despicable that the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) should seek to smear an honest man's name in an attempt to bolster his flagging ratings with his party?

Mrs. Bottomley

The easy option is to find a scapegoat and make him or her carry the can to get a round of applause. That is always the Labour party's approach. Labour Members always look for a scalp when dealing with an issue. Some issues are more complex, and many factors are involved. We have looked at all the aspects of this case carefully and thoroughly. It would be unfair and poor judgment to take this incident out of context and say that, in spite of all that has been achieved, the director general should forgo his job.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Does not the Secretary of State realise that Mr. Davis made a serious error of judgment and disregarded the advice given to him, in order to save peanuts compared with what the national lottery makes? The public expected him to resign or the Secretary of State to sack him. They now want to know whether he, she or the Government will go first.

Mrs. Bottomley

The incident involved no personal gain to the director general; only the British taxpayer benefited. He also took into account his need to return to work as director general in London as swiftly as possible. I have made it clear that it was not a wise decision, but the idea that it affected his judgment or integrity in any way is nonsense.

Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her firm stand, both on her decision and in dealing with questions this afternoon? Does not the director general, Mr. Peter Davis, preside over the most successful lottery in the world, and should not that count in his favour? Can it be doubted that GTech's position in all this is simply that it has developed the most successful lottery technology in the world, which is widely used by lotteries throughout the world? Are not the Opposition today motivated by the principles of a McCarthyite witch hunt, aimed not so much at Peter Davis as at my right hon. Friend and the Government?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend is right.

I urgently confess that I misled the House a moment or two ago. I announced that, earlier today, an extra 22 awards were made from the national heritage memorial fund for the lottery. The figure should have been 33, bringing the total to 4,625 awards. I apologise for that factual error.

My hon. Friend mentioned GTech, which is a well-known company involved in lotteries. But that was not the material factor in terms of the Camelot bid. The important factor was whether the group was fit and proper to undertake our national lottery, and whether its bid would maximise the return for good causes. As I have said repeatedly, the scrutiny of whether the group was fit and proper was undertaken very carefully. As for maximising the return for good causes, the result has exceeded expectations, as the House knows only too well.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

As one who voted for the Second Reading of the National Lottery etc. Bill, and who supported the lottery throughout and believes that it is a success, may I tell the Secretary of State that, for that success to continue, the director general of Oflot must be above all suspicion? I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that Mr. Davis is not, and that therefore he must go.

Mrs. Bottomley

I know of no one who has said that he is a subject of suspicion. I did not know that that was the issue involved. As far as I am aware, no one has suggested that he has been influenced or biased in exercising his decisions, but that is what the hon. Gentleman implied.

I also take the view that, because of the sensitivity of his job, the director general should act with propriety and be seen to do so on all occasions and that his decisions should not be the subject of misunderstanding. That is why I expressed my opinion that those incidents, which took place several months after the licence was awarded, were unwise. That is why I also sought an assurance from the director general that, in future, he would keep in even closer touch with officials from my Department, and would report back on any such matters.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

Can the Secretary of State confirm that, at the time that the director general undertook the freebie flights from GTech, the contract for the scratchcards had not yet been awarded, and that he subsequently had a significant say in the awarding of that contract?

Mrs. Bottomley

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, he is correct that that took place before the scratchcard licences were awarded, but after the main on-line licence was awarded. The director general did have a part to play in that matter. His concern is to maximise the return to the good causes, and it is wrong for hon. Members to imply that his judgment was contaminated, particularly in the light of the National Audit Office's endorsement of his approach and process.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

Conservative Members have said that the director general is not dishonest. I would not say that he is dishonest, but he is very stupid. It is also very stupid for the Secretary of State to say that it was all right for him to take those matters on board after the licence was awarded. How would she feel if chairmen of licensing boards accepted hospitality from public houses for which they had granted licences? She would be the first to condemn local authority people—[Interruption.] I let the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) speak, and he should allow me to speak.

The people out there in our constituencies who are paying for the lottery think that this is a very strange situation. If the right hon. Lady is going to back the director general, they will be asking for her resignation.

Mrs. Bottomley

I made it clear that the director general retains my confidence, because, overall, he is competent to do the job, which he is doing effectively. He made it clear that he accepted the flight so that he could visit more lottery centres in the United States than he would otherwise have been able to do, as they are nowhere near the main airline centres. It was simply his wish to complete the task swiftly, and return to London to get on with his job here.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

Does not the Secretary of State realise that the answer that she gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) transformed the nature of these exchanges? It is not just the regulator but she herself who should go. [Laughter.]Conservative Members may well laugh—I suspect that they may soon laugh on the other side of their faces. Throughout these exchanges, the right hon. Lady has repeatedly emphasised the fact that the lottery licence was granted before the regulator took the flights. She misled the House by not acknowledging that—

Madam Speaker

Order. No, no. The right hon. Lady has not misled the House. Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw that remark, and rephrase it?

Mr. Wilson

I withdraw.

Has the Secretary of State not been in danger of inadvertently giving a false impression by suggesting that no pecuniary benefit was available to GTech in the period subsequent to the gifts and favours being taken, because a hugely lucrative business in scratchcards followed it?

Following on from the question of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), those of us who have followed the matter from the outside know that there were vast questions about the propriety of GTech—

Madam Speaker

Order. This is not how the House should respond to statements—hon. Members must ask questions of the Minister. I have allowed the questions to run for some time, as there is much interest in the subject. I now want the hon. Gentleman to ask a direct question, so that the right hon. Lady can answer it. Two more hon. Members wish to ask questions, and I ask them to have them ready, as I want them to ask them briskly.

Mr. Wilson

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Apart from the scratchcard issue, how have even this Government ended up appointing a lottery regulator whose defence turns out to be that he has been a personal friend of the principals in GTech for 20 years?

Mrs. Bottomley

I have repeated at great length that, in all the circumstances, I have not found the director general to be no longer worthy to continue in office; I have confidence in his ability to continue to regulate the lottery. I set it out clearly in the letter to him, and I do not think that I can give the House any further help.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

Is not the Secretary of State aware that, at the meeting between Richard Branson and Peter Davis to discuss the bribery attempt, a note was passed to GTech, not by the Treasury solicitor, as GTech's press release of 11 December states, but by Peter Davis or Oflot? Will the Secretary of State investigate that matter, and investigate what was received in return?

Mrs. Bottomley

I have already announced to the House that Miss Rafferty is establishing an inquiry into the allegations made by Richard Branson against an officer of GTech in an interview broadcast on 11 December, to consider the facts surrounding a meeting between Richard Branson and Mr. Guy Snowden in September 1993, and to report to the director general any bearing those allegations or facts may have on the exercise of his powers under the National Lottery etc. Act 1993.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

As the Secretary of State said that Mr. Davis took the free flights to save the taxpayer money, will she explain why her officials advised Mr. Davis against taking those free flights?

Mrs. Bottomley

I did not say that he did it "to" save the taxpayer money; I said that the taxpayer was the beneficiary, rather than Mr. Davis personally. I said that he took the flights for operational reasons in order to be able to complete his visits to a great number of lottery centres and return to the UK at the earliest opportunity. Officials, in general terms, advised the director general to be responsible for his travel and hospitality costs, because of the normal rules on such matters. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Let the right hon. Lady answer the questions.

Mrs. Bottomley

The director general, Oflot and the British taxpayer funded the vast sums involved in the visit—for the flights and the basic accommodation. Mr. Davis took the view that, in this particular incident, it would not be appropriate for him to hire a jet independently, and he accepted the offer in order to complete the task faster and return to England. There is no question that the incident affected his judgment, integrity or honesty.

I made it clear, however, that I believed that it was unwise, which is why I asked the director general in the letter to ensure that he keeps in closer touch in future. It is not my judgment that that incident should deprive him of the job that he has so evidently carried out successfully and effectively, to the great benefit of the British people and the good causes that have received extra funds from the lottery.