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Mr. Smith: For the reasons that I advanced, it is impossible for me to give my hon. and learned Friend a ballpark figure. However, I can say that it is certainly the expectation of the commission that any funds provided by Legacy as part of a deal, as and when it is agreed, will return in part to the Millennium Commission through the New Millennium Experience Company, and in part to English Partnerships, which owns the ground on which the dome stands. However, I should state that there will be substantial costs associated with the decommissioning of the dome, which will have to be met from such proceeds. That is why it is impossible for me, at this stage, to give my hon. and learned Friend ballpark figures. However, it is my expectation that there will be a return to the Millennium Commission from such a disposal.

Mr. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North): If the life of the commission is not extended, might such schemes as the Portsmouth tower be jeopardised by a possible failure to receive funding?

Mr. Smith: Yes. If the order is not passed, several potential projects earmarked for funding by the commission will not receive their funding. In addition, any extra funds needed by projects such as the Eden project to ensure their successful completion would not be available from the commission.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): May I take the Secretary of State back to the question posed by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews)? Is not the right hon. Gentleman being needlessly coy about the value to the commission of the Legacy deal, if it goes ahead, given that a precedent was set by the Nomura transaction? If memory serves correctly, that transaction was to be worth about £105 million and the commission was to receive £40 million from that. Would it not be sensible to apply the same proportions in the case of Legacy?

Mr. Smith: We are talking about a deal that has not yet been concluded, figures that have not yet been finalised, and decommissioning costs that remain the subject of discussion and detailed analysis, so I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman in the specific fashion that he requires. However, I can say that the principle on which any such arrangement is likely to be based is that some funds will return to the New Millennium Experience Company and, through it, to the commission, and some funds will return to English Partnerships. Given the yet unresolved final nature of any such deal, I cannot give exact figures.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Smith: No. I must make some progress.

Much of the increase that is before us is required to make good the undertaking by this and the previous Administration that the Millennium Commission's other

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programmes should not be affected by grants to the dome. Without the order, there would be a hole in the commission's budget plans due to the grants made to the dome. The order repairs that hole and ensures that the commission's other programmes do not suffer. In other words, some of the additional money is a consequence of the dome, but it is not for the dome. It is to make good the money that the commission has already agreed to pay to the dome so that the commission can carry out all its other non-dome related activities, which are the vast bulk of its work.

I can assure the House that particularly in the light of NMEC's improved financial position, we do not intend any additional money to be provided to the dome. I can confirm that none of the additional money provided in the order beyond that already reported to Parliament will be paid to NMEC or any other body that may become responsible for the millennium dome.

11.41 pm

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): The debate will not be followed by a debate, except for a deferred vote. The Opposition are opposed to splitting debates from the votes that should naturally follow them.

The Secretary of State has his customary look of being rather pleased with himself written all over his face. He has no right to be pleased with himself, because the order represents a humiliating admission of failure. In retrospect, it was prudent of the previous Administration, in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), whom I am pleased to see in his place, played a distinguished part, to put in place a mechanism for protecting the interests of the Millennium Commission and its projects in the event of the dome failing. However, nobody could have believed that under this Government that failure would be such a huge and appalling disgrace, with such enormous repercussions for other worthwhile causes.

The public are rightly angered by the Government's handling of the dome project and by the hundreds of millions of pounds of overspending and waste that it represents. It became clear early this year that the dome was not financially viable, yet the Government and the company insisted that the entire project was a great success. I shall remind the House of the figures that lie behind the need for the order.

The original contribution from the national lottery to the dome was £399 million. To that, in the autumn of last year, was added £50 million of supposedly repayable contingency funding. Will the money ever be repaid? In February, the dome received a further £60 million, again ostensibly repayable. Will that money ever be repaid? In May, yet further money was poured into the dome-- £29 million. In August and September, further sums of £43 million and £47 million respectively were sunk in the project. Will any of this money ever be repaid?

There came a point when not even the Government could spin the dome as anything but a dome and a drain on the national lottery. What did they do? They started to blame other people. Everybody was responsible but them, and to incompetence they then added cowardice. It remains a matter of lasting shame on the Government that no Minister, not even Lord Falconer, has seen fit to do the honourable thing and resign. However, not even Lord Falconer's resignation, richly deserved though it might be,

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could bring back the millions of pounds that have been flushed down the project--so we have the order before us tonight.

Parliament was not, of course, asked to approve any of the additional grants to the dome. We had no say in that, but we in the Opposition have made our views known. It was wrong, and everyone, including Ministers, knew that it was wrong to continue to bail out the dome. That was done for the worst possible reason: it was done for expediency.

Mr. Chris Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman therefore answer this question: if he had been faced with the advice that we were given at the time, that the choice was between making an additional grant to the dome or incurring far greater expenditure to the public purse by pulling the plug at that stage, which decision would he have taken?

Mr. Ainsworth: Once the full information about the project is available, which it is not yet, we may be in a better position to consider that question. On two occasions the Millennium Commission's accounting officer advised not giving the dome more money, on the ground that it would not be a prudent use of public funds, and on two occasions the Secretary of State had him overruled. That does not say much for the right hon. Gentleman's prudence.

Mr. Maclean: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. By this year, when the dome was making a loss, that was because of the Government's interference since the election, particularly by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). They filled the dome with Labour-inspired ideas which the public did not want to come and see. If they had put proper stuff in it, the dome might have been a success.

Mr. Ainsworth: My right hon. Friend is exactly right, but I am sure that at this time of night Mr. Deputy Speaker would not want me to be tempted down a route that may not be strictly relevant to the order. If the dome had had anything halfway decent in it, it would not have been the financial disaster that it became. If it had had halfway decent financial management, the problem of low visitor numbers would have been considerably mitigated.

The dome was bailed out for reasons of political expediency. It was done to save the Prime Minister's face. The project which the Prime Minister described as

had become so closely allied to the image of new Labour that new Labour could not afford its demise.

If the Secretary of State thinks that he can claim any credit, except perhaps from the Prime Minister, for wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on political expediency, he can think again. The money spent on the dome will never be seen again. It has gone for ever. It is possible that some may be recouped by the proceeds of the sale of the dome, but not enough.

Having bungled the operation of the dome, Ministers are bungling the disposal of the site. When Nomura pulled out of its deal last September, an opportunity existed to open up the future of the dome to a new competition designed to maximise any payback of commission funds

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and raise additional sums for regeneration. Instead, the Government stubbornly returned to exclusive discussions with a bidder that they had previously rejected.

Again, the Government are being driven by expediency. They want the dome off their books before the general election. Ministers have refused to deny reports that Government advisers have said that, without the dome, the site could be worth a further £300 million. That would be enough to pay back the lottery good causes. It would be enough to obviate the need for the order, and leave some to spare.

It is clear that major doubts exist about the viability of the proposed sale to Legacy. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) made a valiant stab at trying to get the information that we have been trying to get for weeks about the status of the Legacy deal and what it might mean for Millennium Commission funds. I do not know, and I do not know whether the Secretary of State knows, whether the present discussions with Legacy will lead to a deal. Ministers have been curiously vague about that.

The attempt to stitch up a cosy deal with Legacy before the general election may yet fall through. Given the Government's pig-headed approach to the disposal and future use of the dome, it is not possible to factor any future sale proceeds into calculations about the overall cost of the dome to the lottery.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made an important point and attempted to get to the bottom of what, precisely, the order is about. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for repeating the assurance of Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who said in another place:

I am not only grateful for the Secretary of State's unequivocal assurance, but extremely relieved to have it. I assure him that we shall hold him to it. I say again, as I have often said before, that not another penny must be spent on that failed project.

It is a great pity that the Government have come to share that view only in December, when they had the option and opportunity to stop the rot in February, May, August and September. The dome will cast a long shadow over the Government, but Conservative Members do not want it to blight other millennium projects. The vast bulk of the additional millennium money--£198 million worth--that will become available as a result of tonight's order is attributable to the dome. That is the scale of the outrage. A sum of £198 million is attributable to the dome, but will not be spent on it. It will be spent on other projects whose funds have been hijacked by the dome.

I note what the Secretary of State said about £30 million--a large sum--being set aside for other commission projects. However, I should be grateful if, in her closing remarks, the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting told the House which projects funded by the Millennium Commission are likely to need extra lottery funding over and above their agreed budgets. Will she comment on the thought that those projects are finding it difficult to obtain the sponsorship money that they need to complete because of the problems associated with the dome and the fact that the Government have managed to give even the millennium a bad name?

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The House will also wish to know on what basis spending £6.5 million on fireworks for the coming new year's eve is reckoned to represent good value for a good cause.

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