HC Deb 27 July 1998 vol 317 cc12-3
29. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

What use he makes of lobbying organisations to promote and secure funding for the dome and its contents. [50797]

The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Peter Mandelson)

The New Millennium Experience Company is responsible for promoting and securing sponsorship for the dome's contents. The company has not employed lobbying organisations for that or any other purpose.

Mr. Prentice

I expected a more illuminating reply from a Minister who casts such a long shadow. The right hon. Gentleman, as he will be, told me in a written answer that he never addresses meetings organised by lobbyists, yet The Independent on 9 July reported that he would be briefing clients of GPC Market Access: a fact that he confirmed in The Observer of 12 July. Why are those meetings held off the record, under Chatham House rules? What does the Minister say privately that he will not say publicly? Will he invite me along to one of those meetings and, if not, why not?

Mr. Mandelson

In so far as any of that question related to the millennium dome, I can confirm that I neither procure nor negotiate sponsorship for it, and that I certainly do not use the services of any lobbying organisation for that purpose.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He knows a great deal about trade, although I am not so sure what he knows about industry; we look forward to finding out.

Will the Minister make clear the difference between private sponsorship that has been indicated and private sponsorship that has been signed up? How much of the £150 million of private sponsorship for the exhibition is the subject of firm legal agreement? Will his new responsibilities mean that he can extract the remaining millions from the private sector without recourse to his cronies in the one industry that he understands really well?

Mr. Mandelson

I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the company's target for sponsorship from the private sector is bang on schedule. I believe that we have raised more than £100 million, and the target is £150 million by the end of the year. That is not bad going, considering that we started in February and it is only July.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

May I remind my hon. Friend that I was among those who lobbied hard from Birmingham and the west midlands for the millennium exhibition to be sited more sensibly at the National Exhibition Centre? Having said that, I visited the site in Greenwich with colleagues last week and it is one of the most impressive pieces of engineering that I have seen. I hope that the exhibition will be an enormous success.

Mr. Mandelson

I thank my hon. Friend. Increasingly, as people realise what a feat both the construction and the engineering of the dome are and, shortly, as it fills with its contents, the project will inspire and excite the nation. I am confident in it and, in view of today's developments, it gives me special satisfaction to say that the millennium dome will come to symbolise something bold, self-confident and forward looking about Britain and it will say a great deal for Britain to the rest of the world.