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Millennium Commission (Substitution Of A Later Date) Order 2000

Volume 620: debated on Thursday 14 December 2000

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

3.35 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 23rd November be approved [33rd Report from the Joint Committee, Session 1999–2000].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House has before it two orders which are closely connected. The first one which we are to consider is the Millennium Commission (Substitution of a Later Date) Order 2000. This order extends the commission's funding life until 20th August 2001. After that date, the commission will continue to operate as a grant-giving body, but we propose that it will get no further direct income from the National Lottery.

Although we are debating the two orders separately, it may be helpful for me briefly to describe the second order, as it takes up the story where the first one ends. In that way I hope to give the House an overview of the Government's intentions. The second order—the Apportionment of Money in the National Lottery Distribution Fund Order 2000—provides that once the extension to the Millennium Commission's funding life comes to an end, all the lottery income which previously went to the commission will instead be allocated to the New Opportunities Fund.

I return to the first order. The Millennium Commission was established by the National Lottery Act 1993. Its purpose is to fund projects,
"to mark the year 2000 and the beginning of the third Millennium".
Under the 1993 Act the Millennium Commission stops receiving funding on 31st December 2000. However, the Act recognised that that date may have to be extended and allows that to be done by order.

The decision to extend the funding life of the commission was made by the previous administration. The then Secretary of State for National Heritage, Virginia Bottomley, said in another place on 20th January 1997 that,
"An Order will accordingly be brought forward to extend the funding life of the commission for one year".—[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/97; col. WA448.]
The reason for that was to cover variations from the estimates in the Millennium Exhibition Business Plan without prejudicing the commission's existing grant programme.

This Government reaffirmed that commitment. Before going any further, it may be helpful for me to say a little about the mechanics of the order-making power. The nature of the legislation does not allow the Government to make an order which simply states that the Millennium Commission will receive £X million. It does, however, allow the Government to extend the life of the commission to a specified date. The order before the House extends the commission's funding life to 20th August 2001. We estimate that that will mean that the Millennium Commission will receive £2,286.5 million of income from the National Lottery. After that date, we propose that the commission will receive no further income from the proceeds of the National Lottery.

I should point out that the previous administration proposed an extension until the end of 2001. Our proposed extension is shorter than that.

Let me say a few words about how we arrived at this new figure—£2,286.5 million—which is an increase of £269.5 million on the previous announced total of £2,017 million. The purpose of the increase is two-fold. First, we agree with the view of the previous administration that the Millennium Commission's other projects should not be adversely affected as a consequence of additional grants to the Dome. That accounts for £198 million of the increase, £179 million of grants and £19 million of lost interest on that amount.

Secondly, there are some additional worthwhile activities which we believe that the commission should undertake within its lifetime budget. Those account for the remaining £71.5 million of the increase. The additional £71.5 million will enable the commission to do a number of things which would not have been possible under its previously agreed income ceiling. Those are as follows: it will be able to put £6.5 million towards the cost of New Year's Eve 2000 celebrations; a further £10 million will be available to support projects reflecting the achievements and aspirations of black communities in the UK; and an additional £30 million will be available to support the commission's existing £3 billion programme of projects, many of which are still being completed. With this funding, the commission will be able to ensure that its capital projects have a solid foundation on which to build for the future.

This order allows for the Millennium Commission to use £25 million to support science centres. While formal decisions cannot be taken unless and until this House supports the order before us today, the Millennium Commission is minded to set up an endowed fund to provide resources in a few years for refurbishment work on the network of science centres around the UK which the commission has funded.

As well as being fun to visit, science centres are playing a key role in informal education, both for school children and for adults. It is increasingly important that people have the opportunity to widen their knowledge of science, technology and medicine as these will have a major impact on their lives.

I am pleased to say that the Wellcome Trust, the world's largest medical charity which has also made a major contribution to science centres across the UK, has agreed to consider working in partnership with the commission and providing some funds to increase the value of the endowment. This fund will enable the centres to maintain their attractiveness both as visitor centres and educational resources.

All of those are extremely worthwhile initiatives and I am extremely pleased that the commission will be able to support them if the order is approved. I indicated that much of the increase is required to make good the undertaking by this and the previous administration that the Millennium Commission's other programmes should not be affected by grants to the Dome. Without this order, there would be a hole in the commission's budget plans due to the grants made to the Dome. This order repairs that hole and ensures that the commission's other programmes do not suffer.

In other words, some of this additional money is as 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—the vast bulk of its work.

What would be the effect of the order not being approved? Would it stop grants to the Dome? No, it would not. Those grants have already been made. The effect would be to take money away from the Millennium Commission's other commendable and popular programmes. So whatever noble Lords' views of the Dome, I hope that they are clear that a vote against the order would not be a vote against the Dome but a vote against the commission's other programmes. And it would be an abandonment of the Opposition's stated policy that the commission's other programmes should not be damaged by support for the Dome.

I look forward with pleasurable anticipation to the debate on the order.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 23rd November be approved [33rd Report from the Joint Committee, Session 1999–2000].—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

3.45 p.m.

rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out all the words after "That" and insert "this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the draft Millennium Commission (Substitution of a Later Date) Order 2000, unless they give a clear undertaking to the House that no additional money beyond that already reported to Parliament will be paid to the New Millennium Experience Company or to any other body which may have responsibility for the Millennium Dome or be its proprietor".

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The Minister explained why the Government believe that this House should agree to the order as it stands. Never has an order looked so innocuous but signified so much. We are asked to accept that the Millennium Commission should continue to receive lottery funds intended for millennium year projects for an extra 33 weeks to a sum of approximately £269.5 million. Why do the Government need to do this? The Minister gave us some of the details. It is because the money which the Millennium Commission should have had available to spend on the good-cause projects has already been blown. It has been poured into shoring up the finances of the Dome. But, as the Minister rightly says, if the commission does not receive more money, the good causes will suffer.

The Minister mentioned science centres and I am grateful to him for that. I visited the Bristol project just over a year ago. I remember Bristol city centre a lifetime ago, in the late 1960s, when I was at university there. It had inner-city dereliction, a socialist local government which was at war with itself and nothing much was going well for the people living in the area. When I returned a year ago I saw a harbour-side which had been transformed. I visited a project which I found most impressive, as indeed were the people who were running it.

I am in no doubt that the Bristol project will play an important part in the regeneration of the city centre. I believe it is vital that the good causes get the money they need in order to survive and thrive. Therefore, noble Lords opposite and my noble friends might be wondering why I have tabled my amendment. It is a fair question and I shall give a fair answer.

First, I want to be absolutely sure that any extra money going to the Millennium Commission goes to the good causes and not to the Dome. The Minister gave encouraging assurances. Secondly, I believe that the public deserve to hear the Government say that as far as the money pit of the Dome is concerned, enough is enough; that no more of the public's money—their lottery money—should be handed over to the New Millennium Experience Company, apart from that which has already been reported to Parliament.

The Government appear to have acted as though the Millennium Commission were a bottomless pit of money that could be mined for the benefit of the Dome. The Minister rightly referred to the previous government's action with regard to giving a commitment that the life of the Millennium Commission could be extended in certain circumstances. In addition to the quotation from Hansard which he made, I refer the House to the Written Answer of my right honourable friend Virginia Bottomley on 20th January 1997, where she stated that any application for extra money with regard to the Dome and in consideration of the extension of the Millennium Commission,
"will only be made for contingencies and inflation which at present cannot be predicted".—[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/97; col. WA 448..]
At that stage, no one could have predicted the chaos that would characterise the finances of the Dome during the guardianship of this Government. There has been an extraordinary failure of corporate governance, one that has been examined in detail by the National Audit Office. We have had a detailed debate on that matter and I shall not abuse the procedure of the House by going through it.

The Millennium Commission originally budgeted for £399 million as a grant to the Dome, with a contingency of an extra £50 million which it expected to be repaid. That £50 million contingency was handed over in November 1999. I was intrigued by the Minister's comment today and tried to listen carefully to the figures he gave. He referred to the grant as being £179 million and the fact that extra interest would increase it to £198 million. Was he thereby saying that the Government expect that £50 million contingency money to be repaid to the Millennium Commission? If not, the amount outstanding to the Millennium Commission would not be £179 million plus interest but £229 million plus interest.

After receiving that £50 million, this year we saw the Dome snaffle up an extra £179 million. In February it was given £60 million. In May it was given £29 million. Then on 5th June, the right honourable Chris Smith said on GMTV that the Government had made it clear that the Dome should not come back and ask again. He said that it should budget with the money it had already received from the commission.

But in August the Dome was back again for another£43 million. In September it was back again for another £47 million. Indeed, on two occasions the commission's accounting officer gave advice to the members of the commission that the extra grant to the Dome would not represent good value for money for the public and a letter of direction had to be sought.

The financial chaos oft he Dome since May 1997 has been an extraordinary saga—but one which needs to come to an orderly end. I, my noble friends and my honourable friends in another place have repeatedly asked the Government to put on record that the grant made in September would be the last. But so far we have not received that assurance. One has to wonder why.

I am not usually given to cynicism, although in politics perhaps one becomes used to trying to be a little more cynical rather than innocent, as of course we all are. If the Government cannot give the assurance which I seek in my amendment today, will the Minister tell the House why extra money will be needed for the Dome and how much? It is only when I know the answers to these questions that we on these Benches can decide whether to press the amendment. I commend it to the House.

Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out all the words after "That" and insert "this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the draft Millennium Commission (Substitution of a Later Date) Order 2000, unless they give a clear undertaking to the House that no additional money beyond that already reported to Parliament will be paid to the New Millennium Experience Company or to any other body which may have responsibility for the Millennium Dome or be its proprietor".—(Baroness Anelay of St Johns.)

My Lords, we on these Benches have had uncharacteristically lengthy discussions on these two statutory instruments. I congratulate the Minister on his clear description of what the orders entail. As to the first one, the purpose of which has now been explained by the Minister, I and my noble friends did not gain much assistance from the Explanatory Note. It is not good enough simply to provide an existing lump of legislation with hardly any further enlightenment. If that is the trend, one almost reaches the stage where one requires an explanatory note of an explanatory note. Having said that, the matter is now extremely clear.

The amendment moved by the noble Baroness is unexpectedly helpful. We should perhaps be grateful to the noble Baroness who may well have inspired the very clear explanation of the Minister. The prolongation of the existence of the Millennium Commission was foreseen in the original legislation put in place by the previous government. However, they never contemplated today's rather sombre situation as regards the Dome. Enough has been said about that, and we do not want to join in any rancorous discussion about apportionment of responsibility for the present situation.

We on these Benches completely understand the reason for the date given by the Secretary of State. The original legislation provided for a period of six months rather than a year. Presumably, the reason for it, which has been reinforced by the Minister, is that, apart from the list of good causes described by the noble Lord—incidentally, we entirely support it—money is required purely to decommission the Dome. Can the Minister tell the House at what stage noble Lords will be given further information about the exact amount required for decommissioning? At the moment that matter is left rather open. The Minister's key remark, which we completely understand and accept, is that the money is only for non-Dome-related activity beyond what is required for decommissioning.

I understand from the observations of the noble Baroness that she is unlikely to press her amendment to a Division. However, if the noble Baroness did so, in the light of her remarks we on this side of the House would not follow her into the Lobbies. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness has been instrumental in throwing further light on the situation. The position is now much clearer than it was the day before yesterday when I and my colleagues discussed these matters which we did not then fully understand.

My Lords, I rise briefly to observe that the same facts can appear to be different to different observers. The noble Baroness described her time in Bristol in the 1960s. During that time I was president of Bristol Borough Labour Party and, therefore, took some responsibility for the policy of the council. The noble Baroness described the centre as having been regenerated. It is true that the centre is now an absolute delight to the middle and chattering classes of Bristol. However, the previous centre, which included some very good public lavatories and flowerbeds, was perfectly adequate. Public lavatories are always anathema to the middle classes because they do not like people stopping and slamming car doors. All of that has gone.

The only common denominator that remains is the statue of Burke. When I was a small boy I could not understand why Burke had been so famous when, looking at his statue, he had been the Member of Parliament for Bristol for only four years. It was only later I discovered that he had gone to Bristol from a pocket borough. Having represented the constituency for four years, he found the electorate rather tiresome. His main opponent, Kruger, refused a fat bribe to withdraw from the contest and Burke went off to another pocket borough. Burke is now hailed as the very acme of democracy and representation of the people and his statue remains in Bristol.

This matter is not of great interest to many Members of the House. However, if the noble Baroness visits some of the haunts of the working classes in Bristol she will find a very different view about the regeneration of which she is so proud.

My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Anelay, I am as anxious as anyone to see that money goes to the New Opportunities Fund and other good causes. My reason for rising this afternoon is to ask for responses to a number of questions. Some of those questions have been put before but not answered and there are one or two new queries. Those matters should be dealt with before we pass this order. We must have those answers because, as the Minister said in moving the Motion, a hole will appear in the budget if funding is not provided. I am worried about what happens if the current estimates of cost and future income for the Dome prove to be substantially wrong. Who then provides the funding, or is there a possibility that in that situation the Government will be forced to return to the House to ask for a further extension? If there is a potential hole we need to be absolutely confident about the numbers that we are talking about.

In the debate on 29th November the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, told the House that the Dome needed about 4.6 million visitors, but he did not answer the question about the number of paying visits. The latest forecast by the New Millennium Experience Company is that it expects 4.6 million revenue-generating visitors by the year end. Is that number about right?

I turn to the present forecast cost. I was astonished by an Answer given in another place on Monday by Janet Anderson. She told the House that the total forecast project cost, based on the budget placed in the Library on 2nd October, was £798 million, including closure costs of £30.3 million. My astonishment arises from the fact that when I went to the Library of this House the budget of the New Millennium Experience Company that had been placed in it on 2nd October related to September. I understand that a subsequent budget forecast by NMEC for October dated 25th November had been placed in the Library. I am extremely puzzled as to why a Minister answering a Question in the other place in mid-December should refer Members to information that was already a month out of date. The matter is of some significance, because in the interval the estimated cost had risen from £798 million to £801.6 million.

Sums of money of between £3 million and £4 million may not be very significant, and there appears to have been some casualness about such expenditures in the past. But it is a little worrying that in a short space of time the budget has increased in this way and the Government have made statements to the public about forecasts that are already out of date. Therefore, I should like to know what the latest forecast cost is and whether the Government are confident about it.

The total £30.3 million decommissioning costs—I should say "decommissioning and closure" costs because there are two separate items which have to be taken together and some numbers have gone up and some have gone down—are £10 million higher than the August estimate. We should be a little concerned about the closure and decommissioning costs because if the estimates prove wrong we could be in some difficulty when the order comes to an end.

One reason why the decommissioning and closure costs may prove inadequate could be a collapse of the present negotiations with Legacy plc. So I should like to know whether the Government are absolutely confident that the present assessment of decommissioning and closure costs are accurate and adequate. Of course, there will be a real problem if the Legacy deal collapses because it is quite clear from the National Audit Office report that the cost of demolishing the Dome would increase those estimates substantially.

4 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am slightly puzzled as to why he thinks there may be a problem. The whole history of the Dome, which I regard as an outrage, has been a simple one: when one runs out of money, one votes some more. What will happen if it runs out of money—the collapse of the new purchaser or for whatever reason—is that they will vote more. With all the history to date, Parliament will vote it more money.

My Lords, it is precisely because I have the same fear in mind that I am making the speech that I am. The Minister in introducing the debate gave us an assurance—or I thought he gave us an assurance—that this was to be the end of the matter. He was not going to come back for more. I suspect that in order to persuade my noble friend not to press the Motion in the debate he is likely to repeat that undertaking. I am expressing some scepticism about the reliability of the numbers we are being given and want further assurance upon the matter.

The third point concerns the prospective sale to Legacy plc. I am aware that if I ask any questions I shall be told that the matter is commercially confidential, it is subject to negotiations and they might break down, although the noble and learned Lord, when he made his statement at the end of July about the previous prospective sale to Nomura, posed few doubts about it. However, he made one statement about that Nomura sale which is relevant. He said that there would be an early payment of £105 million with £53 million going to the NMEC.

In the debate we had on 29th November I asked a specific question. I asked if there was to be an early payment by Legacy plc, and, if so, when. I did not get an answer to that question. I should like an answer to that question today. I particularly want an answer to that question in the light of another extraordinary reply given by the Minister in another place on Monday. I find the words that she used not only extraordinary but rather worrying. She was answering a question about the value of the sale. We have been told in The Times, not by the Government, that the total value of the sale is £125 million, which is £25 million less than the consortium offered previously when they were in competition with Nomura. I do not know whether that is right or not because the Government have not put a final figure on the matter. The Minister in another place said:
"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".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/00; co1.336.]
I repeat that,
"the value of the total offer has been assessed to be more than £100 million".
Instead of an advance payment of £105 million, we shall now have a payment on completion of £50 million and a total deal assessed to be more than £100 million. What on earth do those words mean? My suspicions were roused. It seems rather unlikely that they mean there will be a cash payment. If there is not going to be a cash payment, I wonder what exactly will go back to the Millennium Commission. Incidentally, what impact will that have on the interest charges which have already added a considerable sum to the original total of £179 million which was going to be raised in order to cover the additional grants given during this year to the New Millennium Experience Company?

I have an awful suspicion that we shall see some creative accounting; that we shall be told that the future earnings can be discounted back and valued in some way. I may be entirely wrong. It may be that the answer given by the Minister in another place was off-the-cuff and she was inadequately briefed, and it will be a cash payment; there will be an early receipt; and we shall get an early payment back to help fill the hole to which the noble Lord referred in opening.

I believe that before we pass the order we should have answers to those questions. We should have answers about the latest estimate of paying visitors, not the inflated totals of those who are invited in for jollies. We should have some clarification of the two budgets, to which I refer, of total costs. I would prefer to have details of the latest budget rather than the one offered to the other place by the Minister. I should like clear answers to the questions that I have asked about the sale to Legacy plc, the date of an early payment and whether it will be real money or some product of creative accounting.

My Lords, I have had the honour and experience of serving on a regional millennium committee. Therefore, it is not in my own interests to be too critical of the order and that which went before. In my view the moneys were well spent, not just in my region but in others. Naturally, we could not satisfy all the applicants, but then we assumed, rather cynically, that the bids had been somewhat inflated in the first place and that applications were made for rather more money than they expected to receive.

I have one question to put to the Minister: will there remain a restriction on capital projects, which capital expenditure guidelines we rigidly observed in our committee? We had the inevitable borderline cases and sometimes it was extremely difficult to draw a dividing line. It would be helpful to have clarification regarding, what one might call, the "new money" which is to be available in the months remaining. Apart from that query about the grants for capital expenditure, I have no great reluctance in supporting the order.

My Lords, when we last debated the matter a couple of weeks ago, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, recited at length the numbers of parliamentary Questions, debates and other exchanges which had taken place on the matter. It is therefore the case, I fear, that those of us who have taken an interest in these things may be running the risk of becoming a bit boring on the subject. If I am about to fall foul of that sin, I apologise in advance to noble Lords.

I shall confine my remarks to one question. It is clear—is it not?—that back in July of this year things really began to get very bad for the New Millennium Experience Company. The suggestion has been made by those more expert in these matters than I that perhaps the New Millennium Experience Company was trading at that time while insolvent, a time when the noble and learned Lord was a shareholder—the only shareholder—in the company. He was not a director, but he was the shareholder. It would be a serious matter if the company was trading while insolvent, although I recognise at once that the law in these matters is far from straightforward and that no doubt the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues took the best possible advice.

However, there has been a suggestion that at that moment the Government somehow gave assurances of one kind or another, be they formal or informal, to the New Millennium Experience Company that it would be provided with the necessary funds if things went badly wrong or if the Millennium Commission, against expectations, had not advanced the additional funds that were required. It may be that, armed with those assurances, the directors of the New Millennium Experience Company were able to satisfy themselves that they were not trading insolvently. If that is so, it is no doubt perfectly well understood. But the noble and learned Lord has been very cagey about whether or not such assurances, whether formal or informal, were ever asked for or given. I hope that we can have a clear answer to that question.

Is it or is it not the case that certain assurances were given by the Government to the New Millennium Experience Company at about that time which would have covered the position if the Millennium Commission had not in the event advanced the additional funds that were required? As I said, up to now Ministers have been very cagey about that. I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, comes to reply we can have a clear and plain description of the position.

My Lords, I shall not repeat all the questions that have been asked by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. My noble friend referred to a later budget of income and expenditure, which I have not seen, that has been placed in the Library. Perhaps I may move on to an estimate of the assets and liabilities—for those who have not been trained as accountants, that is not the same as an income and expenditure statement—which we were told in the NAO report was expected to be produced by the end of November. That estimate of assets and liabilities should show NMEC's assets, what they are worth and what liabilities have accumulated and are expected to be paid out. We could then see the net financial position on an estimated basis. That was supposed to be done by the end of November. I should like to know when that estimate can be made available to us.

An important part of the overall financial position will be the financial deal that is done with Legacy. When will we be given a full estimate—not the words that were given in another place—of the straightforward cash-flow from the Legacy deal? We need that information to work out what the final financial position will be.

When the Minister explained the financial impact on the Millennium Commission, he in effect assumed that nothing would be received by the Millennium Commission in respect of the Legacy deal. Will he confirm that the working assumption now is that whatever moneys come—if any do come in cash form—there will be nothing surplus to be repaid to the commission, which was always the intention when the early grants were made? I should be grateful for the noble Lord's views on that point.

4.15 p.m.

My Lords, I shall declare a series of interests. I have been a Millennium Commissioner since the inception of the commission in February 1994. I have been co-chairman of the finance committee for most of that time and chairman of the internal audit committee for the whole of that time.

I rise to speak principally as an individual who has given seven years of his life to the Millennium Commission. The work that we have done has been tremendously exciting and rewarding, but there has also been a large amount of frustration and disappointment in a number of areas, the performance of the NMEC being one of them. However, it is worth putting on record that as long ago as 1995 or thereabouts, when we conceived and then gave birth to what later became known as the NMEC and talked about visitor figures of 10 million to 12 million, we realised that 12 million was certainly in the top echelons of possibility and that there was considerable risk. As an aside, it looks as though the Tate Modern will have 1 million visitors a month. That puts the matter in perspective. The information we had at that time from other events made the 12 million visitor figure plausible.

However, at that stage we had no idea of the content. We had a dream. Following the Great Exhibition of 1856 and the Festival of Britain, which were both great successes, we believed that the kingdom was ready to put on another exhibition. I believe that it was. Unfortunately, the general election got in the way. I do not say that from a political point of view. But the management team lost several months of clear decision-making while it had to hold back waiting to see what would happen in the election and whether a Labour Government would agree to take on the exhibition. That definitely was a shame. Those points are not generally known.

It is also worth making the point—a good many political points have been made and I have taken no part in them—that at the time of the election and soon after it there were negotiations between the present Prime Minister and my right honourable friend Michael Heseltine and others about what would happen to the NMEC. We were delighted when the Labour Party agreed that it would take the NMEC on. It did so on condition that it had three months to carry out an in-depth investigation into the finances of the whole process, which one assumes it duly did. I have recently ascertained this figure. Had the Labour Party chosen to kill the project there and then, it would have cost £25 million. I was given that figure today.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he not think—I say this, admittedly, with the benefit of hindsight but the noble Lord was there at the time—that that would have been a fantastic bargain?

My Lords, with the benefit of hindsight, I do not believe that it would have been a fantastic bargain. In money terms, one might say that, but I still believe that there will be legacy in terms of what has been achieved on the Greenwich peninsula, with all the inward investment that has been made and the infrastructure that will be there in 20 years' time. The whole regeneration of that part of London was what I stuck my hat on.

I played Devil's advocate to the exhibition from day one, as my colleagues on the commission know only too well. What I was very disappointed about— I raised the point on many occasions—was the fact that Mr Blair chose to raise the political temperature by claiming the project as a fine example of Blairism. That was a great shame because at that stage it was not a political show; it was purely a national show. It was also a shame that the place was so mismanaged, which it clearly was. The NAO has demonstrated that. However, I still stand by it. I believe that the decision at the time was right.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He referred to the legacy of the improvement of the Greenwich peninsula cited that, in responding to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, as being the value of the project. That is well so. I can understand the Government and, in particular, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, saying that. However, I do not recall, from the rationale given to the public or to Members of this House, that public support for this venture rested on the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula, admirable though that aspect has been. Rather, it was sold to the country as a national exhibition, entertainment and celebration which, unfortunately, has gone wrong.

My Lords, in answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, it was always clearly stated within the commission's raison d'être that part of the reason for undertaking this project was the regeneration of Greenwich. That element was very much a part and parcel of the argument and debate as regards where the exhibition should be held. I walked about the Greenwich site in gumboots and a hard hat when it was a nasty, smelly former gasworks. A great deal of work went into the site. Throughout this project, I have been comforted by that effort. From day one, I was not one of those great believers that the exhibition would be the howling success that it has now not proved to be. However, I did believe in the legacy.

This afternoon, I should like to put that argument to one side. As I understand it, and speaking for my colleagues, although obviously I cannot vouch for them, I do not believe that another penny will move from the Millennium Commission to NMEC or anywhere else. We have a programme of which we are intensely proud. We have spent something in the region of £1.3 billion of our own, which has generated one-and-a-half times that of public sector money right across the country on 190-odd projects on over 3,000 sites, as well as distributing around 34,000 Millennium Awards and many other activities. The projects about which we are excited are not only the big ones. Having said that, re-linking the River Clyde to the River Forth with a fantastic piece of engineering in the form of a huge caisson wheel to take the place of six locks which will not be reinstated, was a tremendous success. From the Dome to the Eden Project, everyone has heard about these.

However, hundreds of other projects have been completed in local communities. In my own Province of Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Millennium Halls have regenerated or built 54 new village or community halls. I believe that the figure is something over 400 for the whole country. Thousands of miles of cycleways have been constructed. Woodlands have been planted close to urban areas and green spaces have been preserved. New science centres have been set up, as well as practically a new university in Scotland. These are wonderful projects that we have overseen. We should not consider only the highly visible projects such as the British Museum, Tate Modern, Cardiff Arms Park and the Millennium Stadium in Glasgow.

If this order is not passed, nearly all of those projects will suffer to some extent. Some of them may well fail. I stand here as a Millennium Commissioner, speaking for myself—with some passion, I know. I truly believe that this order should be passed. Furthermore, I can assure noble Lords that, to the best of my ability, not another penny will pass from the Millennium Commission to NMEC.

My Lords, if the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, will allow me, perhaps it would be better if I commented on the succeeding contributions and then finish by referring to the words of the amendment that she has moved. However, I cannot do so without saying, first, how grateful I was for her support for the science centres and other good causes. That support has been echoed in the debate by a number of other noble Lords.

Perhaps I may turn to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. I am grateful for his general response to the order and for his support, in turn, for the good causes. He asked me a specific question as regards when further information on decommissioning costs will be available. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made a point on the same issue. A budget for decommissioning is in place. It will enable NMEC to carry out its decommissioning to the level to which it is legally obliged to carry out such work, but any further decommissioning required as a consequence of the Legacy plc deal or, indeed, a deal struck with any other buyer—the Legacy deal is not sewn up—is a matter for discussion between Legacy or another buyer and the competition team. It is therefore not possible to give him an answer at this time as regards the final decommissioning costs. We do not yet know what will be the level of decommissioning. For that reason, there have been and may well continue to be different costs for decommissioning because it is a moving target.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, commented on an increase from the August figures. A part of that was due to the need to take into account the PricewaterhouseCoopers figures, but, in his own calculations, the noble Lord does appear to be putting PWC figures alongside NMEC figures. I do not think that it is possible for that to be done in quite the way followed by the noble Lord.

My Lords, I should point out that I have quoted figures taken exactly from the NMEC.

My Lords, indeed the noble Lord did so, but he asked also about the reason for the increase. The reason for the increase is, as I have said, because the PWC figures have been taken into account.

I do not think that I should interfere in any dispute that might have taken place between the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, about Bristol. That is not a city I know as well as I would wish to know it.

The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, asked a number of specific points which I shall attempt to answer. He asked for the latest figures for the number of paying visitors to the Dome. My understanding is that 4.7 million people have already visited and that bookings are very good until the end of this month. Indeed, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and I have just given advice to the Clerk of the Parliaments, who intends to visit on Sunday. We said that he ought to purchase tickets in advance for himself and his family because it is likely to be full—as I found when I visited three weeks ago. Indeed, although I paid the full price for my tickets, I had to pull strings in order to get in because it was full on the day that I went. That was because 20,000 Girl Guides were visiting the Dome on that day. That was "fun", as well.

The noble Lord went on to ask me about the budget. The total budget stands at £798 million as compared with the original budget figure of £758 million. NMEC is confident that it can achieve solvent liquidation within this figure.

My Lords, I have in front of me the NMEC forecast for October 2000. The figure that has just been given, £798 million, is set down under the heading, "August forecast post-PWC report". The current forecast is £801.6 million. Those figures have been placed in the Library of this House and are dated 25th November. My complaint here is that the Government keep referring back to the budget of previous months. Surely we are entitled to the latest figures?

My Lords, I am not sure that a difference of something considerably less than 1 per cent of the total—£3.5 million on £800 million—is one which needs to be continually reported to this House. However, if I am wrong about that, I shall be glad to write to the noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, also asked me whether the figures given by Janet Anderson in the House of Commons were correct. I can confirm that the figure of £50 million on completion from Legacy, and a total assessed figure of more than £100 million, is correct. However, negotiations are of course still continuing. At this time, Legacy is only a preferred bidder. Until the negotiations are completed, there will not be and could never be a final figure.

I do not have the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. If he will allow me, I shall write to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, asked me a question which he said had not been answered before. I am surprised. He asked me whether the Government had given assurances to NMEC to enable it to continue trading. I can confirm that no such assurances were given. Whether that answer was not given clearly before, I do not know.

I believe that I now have an answer to the difference between the £798 million and the £801 million. The £801 million includes the London New Year's Eve event, to which I referred in my opening speech.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, quite rightly said that an income and expenditure account is not the same as an asset and liability statement, although she referred at different times to that and to a cash-flow figure. Again I have to give the same answer: until the negotiations with Legacy or any other buyer are complete, it will not be possible to give a final balance sheet or cash-flow figure.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. The NAO report referred to an estimate of assets and liabilities being made available by the end of November. Can the Minister say whether that has been received and will be made available to the House?

My Lords, we are not aware of any such commitment being given that it should be made available to this House. I can give the noble Baroness a commitment that as soon as any estimate of the assets and liabilities is received and can be made available to this House—in other words, it can be released from commercial confidentiality provisions—it will be made available to the House. I undertake to ensure that the noble Baroness is made aware of its availability.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for his sterling service on the Millennium Commission over a period of nearly seven years and for his reminder of the longer-term regeneration benefits of the Dome project. I can confirm that he is right in his response to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, that the regeneration effect in east London has been an objective of the Dome project from the very beginning; it was contained in the original press release. I am also grateful for the noble Lord's description of the achievements of the Millennium Commission.

I return now to the terms of the amendment—

My Lords, before the Minister comes to the amendment, he mentioned the additional £3 million identified by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell and said that it was the cost of the New Year's Eve celebration. I imagine that he was referring to this coming one. Is that the celebration that was cancelled by the Mayor of London, Mr Livingstone? Does it reflect the costs of the fireworks that he bought and which will not now be set off?

My Lords, if the Minister will permit me. Yes, it is. We took the money, which has been distributed throughout greater London areas. The festival will now be better enjoyed by local people in various boroughs than would have been the case with the celebrations proposed originally.

My Lords, I can confirm that. I am glad that my own borough of Haringey is one of those which will receive money for this purpose. I am sure that the noble Lord is right in saying that New Year's Eve celebrations which are held more widely among the population are more effective than the centralised celebrations of the kind that caused the Mayor of London such difficulties.

Turning to the terms of the amendment, it seeks a specific assurance that,
"no additional money beyond that already reported to Parliament will be paid to the New Millennium Experience Company or to any other body which may have responsibility for the Millennium Dome or be its proprietor".
I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that, particularly in the light of NMEC's improved financial position, we do not expect or intend any additional money to be provided to the Dome. In particular, I can confirm that none of the additional money provided for in this order, beyond that already reported to Parliament, will be paid to NMEC or to any other body which may have responsibility for the Millennium Dome or be its proprietor.

In the light of what I have said already about the destination of the additional money flowing to the Millennium Commission as a result of this order, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that that is a full answer to the issue that she has quite properly raised in the amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answers to the questions that have been posed.

Perhaps I should begin by referring to the novel intervention of one of the Minister's noble friends. The noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, suggested that I might visit, what he calls, the working class areas of Bristol. I offer him a deal. If he shows me where they are, I shall follow him there. I await with interest what I am about to see. It could be, perhaps, a different experience.

This has been a serious debate on a serious matter in which noble Lords have raised a variety of questions. Some of the answers have been a little jaw-dropping in regard to the information we have or have not quite received—certainly in respect of the information about the current budget and the amount of money that has been dispersed in relation to New Year's Eve. But those are matters to which noble Lords may wish to return by way of written questions and further debates in the future.

Returning to the specifics of my amendment, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have asked questions. Perhaps I may trespass on the good humour of the House and refer in particular to the speech of my noble friend Lord Glentoran. It was an honourable speech—that was no surprise to me for I know him to be an honourable man—and I thank him for what he said.

The Minister has given assurances which are sufficient to encourage me to withdraw my amendment. I say that because when this Minister gives such commitments and assurances, I know that I can trust him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.