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Saturday, 7 October, 2000, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Minister 'was paid Branson adviser'
Arts minister Alan Howarth
Alan Howarth says accusations of improper conduct are "mischief-making"
A minister who made public comments about the process to decide the National Lottery's running was once a paid adviser to Sir Richard Branson, head of a consortium bidding for the licence.

Arts minister Alan Howarth was paid more than 10,000 a year by Sir Richard between 1992 and 1996.

He acted as a parliamentary adviser to Sir Richard's Virgin empire but said any suggestions of behaving improperly would be "mischief-making".

Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard was the preferred Lottery bidder until a court ruling
Last month Mr Howarth publicly defended the National Lottery Commission following a critical High Court ruling.

The commission was accused of being "conspicuously unfair" for rejecting a bid for the licence from current operator Camelot, rivals to Sir Richard's People's Lottery bid.

Despite criticism of the commissioners' decision only to deal with the People's Lottery - which was given an extra month to improve its bid - Mr Howarth praised their "very great ability" in interviews.

Commission chairman Dame Helena Shovelton resigned in the wake of the court ruling, blaming media "vilification".

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has confirmed Mr Howarth was previously paid by Sir Richard, but said he had declared all financial interests.

Commons register

He had also played no part in decisions on the allocation of the Lottery licence.

A spokesman said: "He was a paid adviser, primarily for Virgin's airlines, from 1992 to 1996."

"He is sure that it is in the Commons Register of Members' Interests for all the years that he had a connection with Sir Richard."

As minister for the arts Mr Howarth, who defected to Labour from the Conservatives in 1995, is not normally involved in National Lottery issues.

"Mischief-making"

He told the Daily Mail newspaper he had given interviews about the commission only because other culture department ministers were unavailable.

He said he had reminded civil servants of his previous interest before speaking.

Any suggestion that he had been behaving improperly would be "mischief-making", he told the paper.

But shadow culture secretary Peter Ainsworth said: "The fact that Alan Howarth has had a financial relationship with Richard Branson makes it entirely inappropriate that he should be involved."

Peter Ainsworth
Peter Ainsworth: wants a Commons statement
"It was wrong and extremely foolish at best to allow himself to comment at all because it is impossible to disentangle the process from the bidders - and he once had close links with the bidders."

Mr Ainsworth demanded a full parliamentary statement from Mr Howarth on the issue.

The row broke the day after the new National Lottery Commission head, Harriet Spicer, pledged commissioners would be wiping the slate clean as they decide between both bids.

It has also been reported Ms Spicer had links with Sir Richard, but she played them down.


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05 Oct 00 | UK Politics
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