HC Deb 18 December 1995 vol 268 cc1215-6
10. Mr. Spearing

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when she expects to announce the identities of the operators chosen to run the millennium exhibition. [4644]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

My colleagues on the Millennium Commission and I expect to announce the preferred site and operator combinations for the millennium exhibition in late January 1996.

Mr. Spearing

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Millennium Commission will choose an operator on the basis of the commissioners' ideas for the content of the exhibition and the continuing heritage benefits to the site or sites on the shortlist? Would it not be better for the commissioners to consider all the options available, choose the best combination of them, obtain a few more ideas from the public or from public organisations and make the final decision on the basis of that mixture? Would that not be a more sensible way of going about obtaining the type of millennium exhibition that we all want, and hope will be a success?

Mrs. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is a timetable for planning for that great celebration, and we need to make progress and bring the uncertainty to an end. He will recall that it was Ethelred the Unready who presided over the last millennium. Enormous care has gone into seeking sites, short-listing sites and inviting bids from different operators. The Millennium Commission is aware of the seriousness of that task and of the enormous potential of all the sites under consideration. I will indeed ensure that my fellow millennium commissioners are aware of the anxieties expressed by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Butcher

My right hon. Friend will recall that, in the strict meaning of the Saxon description of Ethelred the Unready, he was the unraed, meaning the ill-advised. I hope that my right hon. Friend feels that she would be ill-advised if London were to dominate the millennium celebrations in the edifices built or events put on. In the midlands, at the national exhibition centre, there is a site with perfect communications, which happens to be only three miles from the monument that marks the centre of middle England.

I wish our colleagues in Ulster, Scotland and Wales great success with their excellent projects, but, as for England, will my right hon. Friend focus resources and attention on the national exhibition centre site?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend, with his great learning, must be aware that Birmingham has had many lottery awards from the different distributors already. He is correct, however, in saying that the national exhibition centre is a perfect site for a millennium festival, as are the east London meridian site in Stratford, the Greenwich site and, indeed, the Derby site at the heart of the nation.

The difficulty for the millennium commissioners is that, each time we have visited all four sites, we have been caught up in the enthusiasm of people hoping that they will be able to hold the reception there. We are determined, however, that that will be a festival of tremendous significance, celebrating the achievements, ability and potential of our nation as we move into the new millennium. We all take the choice of site extremely seriously.