Millennium Dome

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th December 2000.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 12:00 am, 11th December 2000

If he will make a statement on the future of the millennium dome. [141879]

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

If he will make a statement on the future use of the millennium dome at Greenwich from 1 January 2001. [141880]

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

If he will make a statement on the sale of the millennium dome. [141883]

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport

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.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

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?

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport

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.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

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.]

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport

I did not hear that, so I will ignore it.

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 effect on investment across the rest of the peninsula and more widely, and will act as a further stimulus to the development of the Thames gateway.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

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?

Photo of Peter Ainsworth Peter Ainsworth Conservative, 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?

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport

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.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport

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 and 2000. In stark contrast with the Conservative party, we have always been open and transparent about the way in which our party is funded.