HC Deb 19 January 1998 vol 304 cc682-3
26. Ms Abbott

If he will make a statement on the accountability to Parliament of the New Millennium Experience Company. [21470]

The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Peter Mandelson)

As a shareholder of the company I am accountable to the House and I am delighted that, from next month, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will allow me twice as long to answer questions on the millennium experience.

Ms Abbott

My hon. Friend will be aware that the National Audit Office recently identified serious problems in the procurement process for the dome before the establishment of the New Millennium Experience Company. In the light of that, why does my hon. Friend continue stubbornly to refuse to lay interim accounts and contractual information before Parliament in the Library? His argument in the past has been that to do so would put the New Millennium Experience Company in a different position from similar entities. I would argue that the company is different from similar entities, because it is spending £750 million. It is the people's dome and, largely, the people's money—why cannot the people know how that money is being spent?

Mr. Mandelson

I am not denying the House or anyone else any information, stubbornly or otherwise. All the information that such a non-departmental public body needs to make available will be made available and deposited in the Library. I gather that the next accounts are required to be laid in September and that will be done. As for other financial and contractual information, an enormous amount of such information was made available to a Select Committee of the House.

Mr. Soames

I thank the Minister for being good enough to come to the House. Will he confirm that the blood row between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not affect the millennium project? Will the Minister also agree to publish, on a monthly basis, the cash flow forecasts for the New Millennium Experience Company?

Mr. Mandelson

No, I will not.

Mr. Baker

On accountability, may I draw to the Minister's attention page 1 of the ministerial code, which states: Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest"? Does he feel that his refusal to give full information on the finances and details of the dome, as criticised by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, and his clear wish to avoid giving any answers on his wider responsibilities are consistent with the code?

Mr. Mandelson

I answer questions fully in accord with the requirements of the House. Far from the House being denied information about the finances of the company or any other aspects of its operation, the opposite is the case, as the Select Committee was kind enough to acknowledge. As for accountability, I have answered more than 100 written parliamentary questions since June. That compares with a mere 24 written and oral questions answered by my predecessors when the Conservative party was in power.

Mr. Maude

May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his victory in the titanic struggle to persuade the Leader of the House to allow him to answer questions for 10 minutes rather than five? In the same spirit of full parliamentary accountability, will he now answer the only written question that he failed to answer on Friday by telling the House what meetings took place in Britain during 1997 between his officials, the New Millennium Experience Company or him and representatives of the Disney Corporation, why they were not publicised and what was discussed?

Mr. Mandelson

I am happy to publicise any meetings between the company and Disney, because the Select Committee urged us to take advice from and consult the acknowledged world leaders in entertainment. At the Select Committee's behest, I travelled to Florida for discussions with Disney, not to import ideas about attractions but because I wanted to discuss managing the flow of visitors, catering, internal transport and other logistical aspects; and a very useful series of meetings they have been, too.