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Lord Luke: My Lords, from these Benches I associate myself with the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, in welcoming the Minister to his new and onerous responsibilities. I hope that he has had time to consider access to the Dome. However successful it is, access to the Dome is vital. If the final section of the Jubilee Line extension opens on schedule in October, is the Minister satisfied that three months is enough to iron out possible teething troubles that can occur with a lot of new technology? What contingency plans are there to get 20,000 people away from the Dome if there is a major breakdown in transport?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his kind congratulations. I recognise that the job will be hard but I regard it as a genuine privilege to be invited to join the Millennium Dome team. As regards access to the Dome, I have sought to acquaint myself with the position. The Jubilee Line extension will connect central London--namely Waterloo--and North Greenwich, the site of the Dome in summer 1999. It is expected that by the end of October 1999, Waterloo will be connected with Green Park, completing the Jubilee Line extension. I am confident that that is more than enough time for the service to be up and running so that it can bring visitors to the Dome.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, in the light of the welcome progress being made in the design of the spirit zone with its greater emphasis on the significance of Christianity for this country and the place being accorded to other faith communities, does it remain the intention of the Government to reflect the significance of the millennium for Christians in other parts of the Dome, and in particular in the opening ceremonies?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I recognise the obvious significance of the millennium celebrations to the Christian religion. I believe that considerable work and effort have gone into making the spirit zone acceptable to the Christian religion as well as to other faiths, and that such significance will be reflected in the celebrations on 31st December 1999.
The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, can the Minister tell us a little more about the shortfall on sponsorship? Is £150 million seen as the necessary overall figure or are certain zones or components of the Millennium Dome not attracting sponsorship? Can he enlighten us on that?
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, my congratulations to the Minister on his new office will at least be tempered with sympathy and concern as to how that may affect the noble and learned Lord's future.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as ever I am grateful to the noble Lord for his sympathy and concern, which I believe is misplaced. I feel sure that the Millennium Dome will be a great success and I shall make every contribution to try to achieve that.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that my wife and I took the opportunity yesterday of going to east London and viewing the Dome--admittedly from a slight distance? We were both very impressed. However, we noticed a regular-shaped hole in the roof on the west side. Is my son right in thinking that that is for the purpose of inserting the exhibits or is there some other reason for it?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I did not know that the noble Lord and his wife went to east London on Sunday, but I am grateful to hear it. I am not acquainted with the detail of the particular hole that he has in mind. I shall make inquiries and hope that there is no problem related to it.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, is the Minister aware that less than 25 per cent. of the Millennium Commission's funds have gone to the Dome? Although the millennium is a spectacular happening for London, is he aware that Millennium Commission projects will be celebrating the occasion on over 3,000 sites throughout the country?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am aware of that. I am grateful to the noble Lord for pointing out that the millennium celebrations will take place not just in London but throughout the nation. We believe that the celebrations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be a great credit to the nation as a whole.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and recognise that the immediate responsibility rests with the Independent Television Commission. However, does he not agree that it is a proper concern of government and of taxpayers generally that putting right these absurd anomalies of the Conservatives' Broadcasting Act 1990 involves a cost to the Exchequer of £90 million? Therefore, would it not be right that such tax concession and change can be justified only if vigorous steps are taken to ensure that that money is used primarily to improve programme standards, which are badly in need of improvement, and does not go into the pockets of shareholders?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is certainly true that as a result of the renegotiation there is less money for the Exchequer. However, the £90 million to which the noble Lord refers is offset in part by the additional revenue from Channel 5 and Teletext services. The licence renewal process which the ITC went through was not intended to be a negotiation about the content of programmes; it was as set out in the Broadcasting Act 1990, for which I claim no responsibility. It was there to recognise the difference in value of the licences which were originally allocated in 1993.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, leaving aside all technicality and dealing with the quality of service, is the Minister aware that, as regards the television programme about this House, nobody apparently seems to be aware of what on earth is going on?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I assume that the noble Lord refers to the BBC2 programme on Sunday nights, which is a little remote from the Question. I am sure that when noble Lords have finished watching those programmes they will form strong and diverse views about their quality.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the standards of television are dropping dramatically and that over Christmas it was widely thought that they dropped to a new low? What are the Government going to do about it?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I never watch television at Christmas so I do not have any personal experience of those programmes. I do not think that audiences at Christmas are dropping dramatically. I am not sure that there is general agreement with the assertion which my noble friend makes.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as I made clear in a previous answer, the licence renewal process, set out in the Broadcasting Act 1990, did not involve a renewal of the licence requirements. The existing licence requirements, including programme obligations, and those for religious programming, remain in force and have not changed.
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