Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Chris Smith: I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the national centre for popular music in Sheffield has nothing whatever to do with the Millennium Commission.

Mr. Maclean: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that correction; perhaps I picked the wrong example. If the Secretary of State can assure me that every capital project funded by the Millennium Commission is still working properly and does not have problems with running costs, I shall completely withdraw my suggestion. However, is it not true that numerous millennium projects are experiencing dire running cost problems? That is not the fault of the commission or of the Government; it is due to the over-optimistic claims of those who designed the projects in the first place. Are we to leave those projects empty and do nothing with them?

I suggest that the deadline of 20 August should be extended for at least another year, possibly until 30 December 2002, so that extra funds can be put in and the projects do not become white elephants. The Millennium Commission could set up a new trust fund to deal with the running costs.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Maclean: Yes, I shall happily give way to my right hon. Friend, but then I want to conclude my speech.

Mr. Forth: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as the order is not amendable in any way, we have the

18 Dec 2000 : Column 157

difficult choice of whether to support it in full as it is, or vote against it because the date is too early, or should not be there at all? Is that not the unenviable decision that we regrettably have to make?

Mr. Maclean: My right hon. Friend is right. Some Opposition Members may wish to vote against the order because they totally oppose the Millennium Commission's continuing one minute beyond 31 December. I may have severe criticisms of some of the decisions made by the commission, and of some of the projects that have been funded, but some very good projects have also been funded. In my constituency, we now have one of the best village halls in the country, and we are grateful for the £70,000 that the Millennium Commission gave towards it. It is one of the best bargains, and one of the best-constructed buildings, in the country.

I am in favour of the commission's continuing, and also in favour of the order--except that it does not go far enough. I therefore intend to vote against it, so that the Government can replace it with an order to extend the period slightly and allow sufficient funds to be provided to deal with some of the problems that I have mentioned.

12.36 am

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): I shall be brief, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) for having finished speaking when he did. I declare the briefest interest as a former chairman of the Millennium Commission; it was a great pleasure to serve on that commission with my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). The one contribution that I may have made was to help advise the then Prime Minister on its membership. I congratulate my successors who served on the commission on a series of striking successes, which it helped to choose, support and sustain.

The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) asked about Legacy, and I congratulate the Secretary of State on the cautious words with which he responded, particularly in the context of the principle of the preferred bidder. I recall that that principle also appeared in connection with the letting of the new lottery contract--and, on the whole, it is a pretty dangerous concept to work with. The Secretary of State was prudent to use such cautious language.

During the imbroglio that we discussed in the earlier part of the debate, I asked the right hon. Gentleman an oral question about what the money that was lent to the New Millennium Experience Company would have been spent on if that loan had not been made available. In other words, would some projects go unfinanced simply because the money had been distributed? The Secretary of State gave me the reassuring answer that, to the best of his knowledge, none of the commission's other plans would be affected.

However, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) has implied that some other plans were affected by the porousness of the dome's finances. Frankly, that is now a matter initially, possibly, for the Comptroller and Auditor General, and subsequently for historians. I do not propose to probe it further this evening.

I have one elegiac question to ask the Secretary of State in his present capacity as the chairman of the Millennium Commission, which will probably be answered by the

18 Dec 2000 : Column 158

Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting when she winds up. It is about what will happen to the programme of bursaries after 20 August 2001. The bursary scheme has always seemed an admirable programme, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley and I can remember discussing as long ago as 1994. In my view, the benefits of the programme are exemplified by the designer of coracles in County Down, who, as I recall, was one of the guests selected to come to the Royal Gallery on new year's eve.

Will the Minister--or the Secretary of State, who appears to be about to intervene--tell me what the basis for financing the bursaries will be after 20 August next year?

Mr. Chris Smith: The position is that the commission has made £100 million available for millennium awards, as they are now called, during the current period--the four or five years bestriding the millennium year. That programme is now well under way; many thousands of people have received those awards. However, our intention is that a further £100 million should form an endowment for the future in perpetuity. The income from that endowment will be used to finance similar awards in perpetuity--provided, of course, that the order is passed tonight. If it is not passed tonight, the £100 million endowment will be put in jeopardy.

Mr. Brooke: If those are the last words that the Secretary of State utters on the order, I am pleased that they were happy and pleasurable, and I am grateful to him for them.

12.40 am

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): The debate has shown the strength of feeling across the House about the millennium dome's funding, especially the almost £200 million extra that the Millennium Commission has given the dome, which is the cause of the Government's having to introduce the order tonight. Many right hon. and hon. Members feel extremely strongly about that.

I was interested in the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)--I think that I heard him correctly--that the scale of the failure was not envisaged at the start of the project, although his prudence in ensuring that such a mechanism existed to provide the Millennium Commission with on-going funding has been borne out by events.

The exchange of views between the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and my right hon. Friends will become required reading for those who wish to delve further into the issues relating to the awarding of the extra money to the dome and the extent to which Parliament was not properly informed of what was going on. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that there is reason to doubt whether Parliament would have approved that extra money if we had been asked to grant it under the kind of order that we are debating tonight. Of course it could be argued that matters are made worse by closing down the dome prematurely, but the real issue is that Parliament has never been told the whole truth.

From what we have heard in this brief debate, we can take it that the serious criticism of the ministerial handling of the millennium dome is justified. As my hon. Friend

18 Dec 2000 : Column 159

the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) rightly said, no Minister has resigned; no one has seen fit to take responsibility for what has happened. However, the debate is not about awarding more money to the dome; it has already been given the money.

We welcome the assurance that the dome will not receive any more money, but I should be grateful if the Minister would make it clear in winding up that the promise, if I understand it correctly, is that the dome will receive no more money from the lottery. I want the difference to be made clear. Will it receive no more money from the Government, or is not there a possibility that they will have to underwrite some of the dome's decommissioning costs if a deal, such as that involving Legacy, goes through? That is not the same as saying that there will be no more lottery money. Will the dome be given public money? We certainly read in the newspapers the suggestion that it might be. Money has been earmarked for other worthy projects, and we would like to know in due course which projects will be supported by the £30 million to which the Secretary of State referred.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) spoke of what is happening in his constituency, but the real point about this debate is that we are being asked to replace money that is being filched to support the dome so that other projects will not lose out. Parliament has been placed in an impossible position. To provide more money would add insult to injury, because many parts of Britain think that the dome is a London project. London has already received more than its fair share of Millennium Commission money.

The regions feel impoverished, and they will feel more so if the order is not accepted. The Government have mismanaged the dome project and the order is proof of that. However, this debate is by no means the final chapter of a very sorry mess. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey said that it was a sad order, but we would exacerbate the sadness if other millennium projects failed for lack of money. I therefore urge my right hon. Friends not to vote against the order on Wednesday.

Next Section

IndexHome Page