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Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 12:51 GMT
Lottery saga could 'run and run'
National Lottery
Controversy has dogged the bidding process
The lottery saga is likely to continue long after a decision is made on who should run the competition after 2001.

Regulators have told MPs that a decision on whether existing operator Camelot or Richard Branson's People's Lottery has won the next seven-year licence will be made in December.

But they have accepted that the saga may not end there.

Lottery commissioners told MPs they may have left themselves open to future legal challenges because of the way they handled the tender process.


No doubt when this process is complete we can look back and see if things could have been done properly

Lord Burns, Lottery Commission
They also refused to give cast iron guarantees that any changeover to a new operator would be trouble free.

Mistakes

The commissioners told the Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee that mistakes had been made in the way they handled the lottery tender process.

In August, they decided to exclude Camelot from talks and to negotiate exclusively with the People's Lottery.

The High Court ruled that the Commission had acted illegally and now both bidders are back in the race.

Lord Burns, the Lottery Commission's recently-appointed chairman, described the recent events as "unfortunate".

Lord Terry Burns
Lord Burns: Mistakes have been made
"I think it was an unfortunate episode and resulted in a lot of bad publicity that the lottery could have done without," he told MPs.

"But I don't think it has brought the lottery into disrepute."

He added: "No doubt when this process is complete we can look back and see if things could have been done properly. But that is a job for later."

'Acted on advice'

Harriet Spicer, one of the commissioners who made the original decision to exclude Camelot from the process, added: "It was a mistake".

She told MPs the commission had made the decision after receiving advice from Treasury solicitors.

"We made an assumption we should not have made. We thought it was for the best."

Asked whether the saga could drag on and whether the commission could be sued by one of the bidders, Lord Burns said: "That is a possibility but I hope that will not be the case."

He refused to answer MPs questions on whether there was a likelihood that the National Lottery would be "postponed" during any changeover.

"I do not want to be drawn into this now," he said.

Ms Spicer said the commission was making plans to ensure any problems were kept to a minimum.

Lord Burns defended the commission's decision not to automatically award the new contract to Camelot.

"Simply because someone has done a good job should not mean that there isn't a competition next time around," he said.

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