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The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson): On 20 November, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions announced that Legacy plc had been awarded preferred bidder status. Negotiations will continue, and if all goes well, we expect to exchange contracts during February. Progress will be reviewed regularly.
Mr. Leigh: Can the Minister confirm reports that the site would be worth £300 million more if the dome were pulled down? Is it not entirely appropriate that the greatest white elephant in history should be worth more dead than alive?
Janet Anderson: I can only say that the price being offered by Legacy is good value for money. That is the advice that Ministers have received from the competition team, which has also advised us that the site offers as good value as a cleared site might offer.
Mr. Fabricant: But the price being offered by Legacy, which is supposedly such good value for money, is £25 million less now than it was in June, when Legacy first made its offer. Moreover, as the Minister just told us, the offer is subject to "all going well". That does not exactly fill us with enthusiasm.
Will the Minister confirm that the farce continues--that from January until June there will be decommissioning costs of up to £2 million a year to be paid by the poor lottery player? [Hon. Members: "A week."] I mean £2 million a week. [Interruption.]
The details of the sale are commercially confidential, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that £50 million will be paid on completion, and that the value of the total offer has been assessed to be more than £100 million. Let me also remind him--this, too, is very important--that Legacy's proposals will deliver investment of more than £130 million in the first three years, and more than £250 million by 2006. That will have a major knock-on
Mr. Baldry: As the Minister may know, some of us consider the dome to be a rather fine structure, and do not share the Visigoth approach of our friends from the fens. Will she accept, however, that what is important is the provision of transparency and accountability, given the rather sorry history of the National Millennium Experience Company? Will she give an undertaking that, when the deal is eventually done--with whomever it is done--she will explain to the House, in terms that all can understand, exactly what it involves? Will she ensure that the deal is not obfuscated by phrases such as "commercial in confidence", which always raise suspicions that some rather shady deal is being done behind closed doors, to which Ministers are not prepared to admit?
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): Having bungled the operation of the dome, are not the Government now setting about bungling the sale of the dome? How can the Minister possibly be sure that the maximum amount will be raised for regeneration and for paying back some of the appalling losses, when the Government have flatly refused to enter discussions with anyone other than a single bidder, which happens to be run by someone who has given the Secretary of State's local Labour party quite a lot of money? Is that not typical of the deceitful, dishonourable and shameful way in which the whole project has been managed by Labour? Questions have been unanswered and avoided; the public have been misled by weasel words, if not downright lies; and attempts have been made to shift the blame everywhere but where it is properly due--on Ministers. Are we not witnessing a desperate attempt to stitch up a deal before the general election, and the triumph of political expediency over public value?
Janet Anderson: I am ever more astonished at some of the hon. Gentleman's interventions. He will recall--Labour Members certainly all do--that he was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the former Secretary of State for National Heritage, who first proposed the whole scheme. I also remind him that only two bidders reached the original shortlist: Legacy plc and Nomura. Once Nomura had pulled out, Legacy plc was the sole remaining shortlisted bidder within the rules previously established for the millennium dome competition. It would not have been appropriate to enter negotiations with another proposed bidder while those discussions continued.
As for the hon. Gentleman's cheap points about the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State took no part in the selection of Dome Europe and Legacy plc for the final shortlist for the dome competition.
Janet Anderson: The hon. Gentleman asks from a sedentary position, "How much?" Robert Bourne is recorded in the Labour party's annual accounts as having made contributions of more than £5,000 in both 1999
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): We are making good progress in promoting resort regeneration. This summer, the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting toured seaside resorts, including my hon. Friend's constituency, to see at first hand the problems and the opportunities. We fund the British Tourist Authority, which does an excellent job in marketing England abroad. Regional tourist boards, local authorities and other destination organisations all play an important part in promoting seaside holidays. I am pleased that we have been able to secure regeneration assistance for a large number of seaside resorts.
Mr. Quinn: I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Not only Scarborough and Whitby but the constituency of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) are benefiting from objective 2 status. Will my right hon. Friend make every effort possible to discuss with lottery-awarding bodies whether we can lever in extra assistance for the many seaside resorts throughout the country that desperately need regeneration? I thank him and his Front-Bench team for all their efforts to promote the traditional seaside holiday in Britain.
Mr. Smith: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Eight wards in Scarborough are included in objective 2 for potential funding. That is welcome. In relation to lottery funding, we are determinedly bringing pressure to bear on the lottery distributors to ensure that the spread of funding is fairer geographically throughout the country than it has been in the first five to six years of lottery funding. We shall look particularly at seaside resorts that have hitherto lost out in the fair sharing of lottery funds, and shall try to ensure that fairness is re-established over the coming years.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Is the Secretary of State aware that the recent flooding has caused damage not just to seaside resorts, but has turned many parts of the Vale of York into a seaside lookalike attraction, causing many caravans and mobile homes to be evacuated? What measures do the Government intend to take to ensure that those who are likely to lose their livelihoods over the next year because of the flooding damage will have some tourism industry to look forward to in the next year?
Mr. Smith: Of course, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who has primary responsibility for the matter, is already taking action with local authorities to ensure that the best possible measures can be taken, as rapidly as possible and at as little cost to local authorities as possible, to ensure that the damage is put right,
Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): My right hon. Friend will know that many of Britain's seaside resorts are areas of high unemployment. Thanks to the Government, however, many of them--including Lowestoft in my constituency--have assisted area status. Will my right hon. Friend approach the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to seek clarification on tourism businesses' eligibility for assisted area status money? It is very important that we maximise employment in all industries, and in those towns tourism obviously has enormous potential for growth.
Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is right about the enormous potential of the tourism and hospitality industry: already, more than 1.7 million people in this country are employed in tourism and hospitality. They are among the fastest-growing categories of employment in the United Kingdom, and it is important that we ensure that that strength continues. I am particularly pleased that, under round 6 of the single regeneration budget, Lowestoft has received £1.25 million. We hope that it will be able to ensure that some of that funding goes into the generation of new employment opportunities in those sectors.
Sir Richard Body (Boston and Skegness): Is the Minister aware that there is one east coast seaside town that is proving very successful--much more successful than Lowestoft and Scarborough; is attracting an increasing number of people; and is not bothering him about public funds, subsidies or anything else? That town--which I entirely recommend him to visit to see how all that can be managed--is Skegness.
Mr. Smith: I certainly commend the hon. Gentleman for his devotion to the bracing atmosphere of Skegness, and I am sure that almost everything he says about it is true. The only quibble that I might have is with the unfair comparison that he made with both Lowestoft and Scarborough, which I am sure are every bit the equal of Skegness in the delights that they have to offer the visitor.