HC Deb 20 April 1998 vol 310 cc473-5
28. Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

What events are proposed at the millennium experience for the evening of 31 December 2000. [37435]

The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Peter Mandelson)

I am tempted to say that my hon. Friend should give us a break before asking questions about the closing ceremony. Preparations for that ceremony are at an early stage, and it is too soon for final decisions.

Mr. Mackinlay

I am somewhat disappointed by the tone of that reply, bearing in mind the fact that the eve of the millennium is the last day of December 2000 and the first day of the millennium is 1 January 2001. When we are emphasising the need for arithmetic to be taught correctly in schools, I should have thought it incumbent on Her Majesty's Government to mark the arithmetically correct time of the millennium change.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

indicated assent.

Mr. Mackinlay

Before they nod, Conservative Members should reflect on the fact that they got it wrong as well. It is important that this Parliament should at least give some recognition to the fact that the eve of the millennium is the last day of 2000. We should get it right, or we shall look profoundly silly. The Victorians got it right: newspapers of 1900-01 show that they marked the change of the century on the eve of 1901. We ought to be able to get it right, too.

Mr. Mandelson

Whatever the technical truthfulness of my hon. Friend's observation, I can assure him that, whenever the opening and closing ceremonies take place, they will reflect the full breadth and success of the celebrations that we have planned. I am determined to ensure that the whole year-long celebrations are accessible to as many people as possible, and not only to the well-heeled and the very important.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Whatever the closing date of the dome may be—or perhaps, following the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), I should say, "la date de fermeture"—is it not completely irrelevant, given that, although there were supposed to be 12 million visitors, we have already heard that the plan to provide river transport has failed, and London Transport says that there will not, after all, be 24 trains an hour? How can there be a closing, when the opening will be unsuccessful, as nobody will be able to get there?

Mr. Mandelson

The innovative integrated transport systems that are being developed—the Jubilee line extension, the new river services and riverside walks, and even a cable car service across the Thames—will be among the most important legacies of the millennium experience.

The article in The Times last week was not correct, as I shall set out in a letter to the editor. As part of his Thames 2000 initiative, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced last month—[Interruption.] Conservative Members may not like to hear the facts, but I shall give them to the whole House none the less. My right hon. Friend announced the allocation of £21 million to boost new passenger services on the river, and we expect 1 million people to travel to Greenwich by boat from central London using those services, which will certainly become a jewel in the capital's transport network.

29. Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

What progress has been made on the national programme for the millennium experience. [37436]

The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Peter Mandelson)

The New Millennium Experience Company has established 12 national programme offices in the nine regions of England and in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Staff in those offices are providing a one-stop shop source of information about how to engage in the United Kingdom-wide programme of events and activities and in the nation's millennium festival.

Mr. Tipping

Is my hon. Friend aware of the feeling in north Nottinghamshire and, I suspect, in Hartlepool, that people living in London and the south-east are advantaged to the disadvantage of people in the midlands and the north? Will he take steps to ensure that people throughout the United Kingdom have the opportunity to celebrate the millennium?

Mr. Mandelson

The Government are absolutely determined to ensure affordable access to the millennium dome for all people from every part of the country, but the millennium does not mean only the dome. It means the £100-million nationwide festival of sporting, artistic and heritage events, bids for which can be submitted from next week; the huge range of capital projects being funded by the millennium commission at over 3,000 locations throughout the country; and the millennium awards, which will fund ordinary people throughout the country to do extraordinary things, from pensioner inventors in Cornwall to special needs workers in Northamptonshire. In other words, it means a national movement to change the landscape of our country and really make a difference to the way we live our lives. That is what the millennium celebrations mean, and that is why the Government are backing them.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

Is the Minister not aware that the millennium celebrations actually mean the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ? Is he not ashamed of the fact that, throughout all that great tirade and, indeed, his answers to the other questions this afternoon, he did not mention that once, and that the importance he gives to it in his dome is so ludicrously small?

Mr. Mandelson

The hon. Gentleman's view is not shared by His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, with whom I had a recent meeting and who expressed himself well content with the proper acknowledgement that we are giving to the birth of Christ and the contribution of the Christian religion to this country. We will continue to work with him, his colleagues and other members of the multi-faith Lambeth group to ensure that all those objectives are properly reflected and fulfilled.