HC Deb 16 February 1998 vol 306 cc758-9
31. Mr. Mitchell

If he will make a statement on the regional content of the millennium experience.[27615]

Mr. Mandelson

The overarching theme of the experience—"Time to make a Difference"—will encourage participation by individuals in all areas of the United Kingdom through a national programme of events and activities, which will be reflected in the dome's contents.

Mr. Mitchell

I hope that, as a fellow northern MP, the Minister will try to ensure that there is a substantial measure of regional content in the experience itself—something beyond fish and chips and avocado mousse. It will be a disaster if that huge statue becomes known as the angel of the south—which, being androgynous, may well be what happens. I wonder whether he shares my hope that he, as a Minister, will stay with the project and eschew all promotion offers. One Minister should be accountable for the project from start to finish, and I am sure that no one has a better prospect than he of making a success of it, or of telling us that it has been a success if it has not.

Mr. Mandelson

I am sure that the Prime Minister will take my hon. Friend's advice on this, as he does on so many other matters. As for the Angel of the North—which, I should remind the House, yesterday started its journey from Hartlepool—we should not underestimate the public in considering great ventures. The public recognise vision and imagination, and they know how to take pride in another British first. Just as that has been the case with the angel of the north, so it will be with the millennium dome.

Mr. Spring

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that a focus of the dome's contents will be a giant-size reclining statue? Will he tell the House out of what substance the statue will be made, and whether it will be male, female or gender neutral?

Mr. Mandelson

I really do not want to spoil the hon. Gentleman's fun: I will let him wait a little longer, if he does not mind, for those matters to be fully determined. All I know is that it will be a very fine figure indeed, creating opportunities of great educational value and inspiration for all those who have the chance to travel round its body.

Mr. Skinner

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that there are loads of people in Britain who have not been carried away with the type of enthusiasm that he displays for the millennium dome, which was a folly of the Tory Government when it began its journey? Has the dome passed the financial point of no return? Is there still a possibility of saving some of that money so that it can be spent, for example, on a millennium hospital—rather than on Heseltine's folly?

Mr. Mandelson

No. The funds that were set aside by Parliament for the millennium celebration could not otherwise be spent on education or hospitals. It is worth reminding the House that only 20 per cent. of the Millennium Commission's expenditure on the millennium celebrations is being devoted to the dome, and that 80 per cent. is being devoted to major, landmark projects and to tremendous investment in community organisations, projects and enrichment in every part of the United Kingdom.

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