The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Sir John Major’s Speech on 25th Anniversary of Camelot – 4 July 2019

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir John Major on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Camelot. The speech was made at Somerset House in London on Thursday 4 July 2019.

It’s a real pleasure to be here at Somerset House to celebrate this Anniversary.

Twenty five years ago the Lottery had a difficult birth, with many critics. But we can now see that it has changed the face of our country.

Wherever you travel, the Lottery has left its mark.

An Arts Centre, here – a new sports complex there. Churches restored. Village halls built or repaired. New playgrounds for children.

Restored parks and open spaces. New cycle ways. New instruments for local bands and orchestras. Theatre groups. Community groups providing care and support for those most in need ….. I could easily go on ……

It has also revolutionised sport: athletics, rowing, gymnastics, hockey, cricket, football – indeed all sports – and brought the four nations of the UK success on a scale we could not otherwise have achieved.

All in all, hundreds and thousands of projects – in every corner of our land – some very big, but most quite small, and covering every sort of good cause, have all enriched the lives of the “little platoons” that are the bedrock of our society.

So thank you, Lottery – and thank you, Camelot for your stewardship of it.

The Lottery began – as all good stories do – a long time ago. At the time, I was Chief Secretary to the Treasury and responsible for deciding who got public money – and how much.

Sport and the Arts have always been passions for me. I treasured our heritage, and admired the work of charities. But, as Chief Secretary, I saw that – however important all these things are to our quality of life – they only ever got peanuts from every Government. Quite simply, they could never compete with the demands of health, education or defence.

But they were still important – especially so to those who could not pay for their entertainment – and so I looked for a pot of gold, “free” of Government interference, that came voluntarily from the taxpayer.

The pot of gold I found was the Lottery.

And, since the money came from the public, I believed it should only be for the public – and not for any Government to spend.

I remember the launch day very well: the press turned out en masse to witness my buying £5-worth of tickets from Victoria Station. I then lived a nightmare knowing that if I won the jackpot, I would have to give the money back.

I, myself, was fully reconciled to this, but as – at the time – I had a mortgage and no savings, I wasn’t quite sure how that would have gone down with my family.

Fortunately, fate was kind: I won nothing – and a frosty reaction from my family was averted.

I always will care very much about the Lottery. I am enormously proud of what it has achieved so far and – as Hugh Robinson noted a few moments ago – the fact that it has now distributed £40 billion to good causes is truly phenomenal. As I look ahead, I wish it to continue to do so.

But there is a growing problem that I hope Government will address. The National Lottery was designed to be a monopoly for the people, hence the “National” in its title – but is now in danger of being undermined by the changing nature of umbrella society lotteries.

The success of small local society lotteries and the National Lottery has been based on a clear distinction that allowed both to co-exist. And that is fine.

However – having seen the success of the National Lottery – a small number of these are now emerging on an industrial scale, and have positioned themselves as national competitors to the National Lottery.

It was precisely to avoid this sort of problem that, when the Lottery was first introduced, Parliament legislated that it would be a monopoly.

The continued growth of umbrella society lotteries will draw money away from the National Lottery, and thus away from good causes. If that continues, and grows, the loss to local communities and civic amenities will be immense.

However, tonight we are here to applaud and celebrate the outstanding achievements of the National Lottery.

At 25, it is in its prime, and I wish it every possible good fortune for the next 25 years – and beyond – as it matures into a venerable and much respected old age: a true national treasure.