HC Deb 08 December 1997 vol 302 cc659-61
27. Mr. Keith Simpson

How many public relations consultants are currently contracted for the millennium experience. [18005]

The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Peter Mandelson)


Mr. Simpson

On behalf of many hon. Members present, may I say what a joy it is to see the Minister here this afternoon? I know that he is opposed to "excessive accountability", to repeat the words he used before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, but perhaps he could give us some idea of how much public relations on the millennium experience is costing.

Mr. Mandelson

I have already said that no outside public relations firms are contracted to the New Millennium Experience Company. Of course it has members of staff who are working to promote that experience—as my hon. Friend would expect.

Mr. Timms

I wonder whether my hon. Friend is aware that the millennium dome is already a spectacular site from my constituency [Interruption.]—indeed it is—north of the river. Rather than listen to the consultants who are the pre-occupation of Conservative Members, will he consider asking school children in my constituency for ideas about the content of the exhibition in that dome, because they will be enthused and keen to contribute? I am sure that they would add a great deal of value to an exciting festival.

Mr. Mandelson

That is an excellent idea. The contents of the millennium experience, the dome, will attract people of all ages, although I suspect that playing surfball, the 21st century sport, will have an especial appeal to young people. In addition to forming a new millennium council to tap into a wide range of popular opinion about the experience, I intend to form a junior board or a junior council so that young people, who will enjoy the experience so much, will have an opportunity to plug right into the planning of the experience.

Mr. Maclennan

Does the Minister think that the millennium experience's impact on the country's cultural life will last as long as did the outcome of the great exhibition and the post-war south bank developments, with which his distinguished grandfather was associated? If he takes the view that the benefits could be as long lasting, does he agree that public relations consultants are unnecessary as long as he holds his present job?

Mr. Mandelson

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. The millennium experience will be a great success, because it will be an opportunity to bring together the whole country. It will also give us a chance to pause and reflect on our society and our country as we enter the new century and the new millennium. He is also right to say that there will a considerable legacy from the investment we are making. It is important that we should remember the reclamation from waste and dereliction of a big slice of our capital city, the construction of the new millennium village community on the Greenwich peninsula and the tremendous transport infrastructure, all of which will be permanent legacies of our investment.

Mr. Dalyell

What access will be made available for Scotland and the north of England to the millennium experience?

Mr. Mandelson

I am glad my hon. Friend asks that question. One of the important conditions that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out when we agreed to go ahead with the Conservative party's excellent idea for the millennium experience was that there should be a national programme that would reach out to all parts of the country and to all the national regions within the United Kingdom. The ticketing and transport arrangements we develop will ensure that people can afford to come and that they will have the facilities to come to the millennium dome at Greenwich from every part of the country, wherever they live.

Mr. Maude

The hon. Gentleman started with five minutes of questions and it has now come down to four—we can look forward to its decreasing further. I am sure that everyone shares my relief that, in view of his dislike of what he calls "excessive accountability", he has come back at all. Does he not understand that his reluctance to disclose any real information about progress at Greenwich—for example, the laughable information centre that contained no information and the information brochure that contained, at my best count, fewer than 900 words, most of which were slogans—undermines the credibility of the whole project? Does he not understand that people assume either that he has something to hide or that—more likely—he is hiding because he has nothing to say?

Mr. Mandelson

Given that the millennium experience and the construction of the dome was the Conservative Government's idea and began when the Conservatives were in power, I do not quite understand the right hon. Gentleman knocking and log rolling. When I took over ministerial responsibility in June this year, there was no content to speak of whatsoever.