HC Deb 01 February 1999 vol 324 cc589-90
30. Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

If he will make a statement on the future use of the millennium dome after the millennium celebrations. [66789]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)

The Government are concerned to ensure that the nation enjoys a long-term and enduring legacy from the millennium celebrations as a whole, and that includes the dome. That was one of the conditions set by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in June 1997 when the Government gave the go-ahead for the project. We plan in the near future to make announcements about the invitation of expressions of interest in future use.

Mr. Loughton

The Secretary of State will be aware that opinion polls still show that the majority of adults are highly sceptical about the dome and think that it is a waste of money. Such scepticism was compounded by his predecessor's reluctance to release full details and information about the dome, which led to a stream of rumours and unhelpful speculation. Will the Secretary of State undertake to make a break with the cloak-and-dagger approach of his predecessor, and give a full and open outline of his plans for the dome, once the millennium celebrations are behind us and the banners for the latest re-relaunch of new Labour have been put away?

Mr. Smith

I will be, as I have always been, open and transparent about everything that is happening. As I said, invitations to bidders for future use of the dome will be announced shortly. Public support for the dome is increasing, particularly among children, who very much want to go and visit it. The level of support that the dome is enjoying far exceeds any level of support that the Tory party is currently enjoying.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Conservatives planned to dismantle the dome after the millennium celebrations, and that they have advanced no positive ideas for its future? In the eyes of some, such a lack of imagination and vision might warrant a shake-up on their Front Bench. By contrast, will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is the fullest public consultation about the future of what will be an extremely attractive site?

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend has the Tories bang to rights. Under the previous Government, the intention was to dismantle the entire dome after one year. We have made sure that the structural steelwork has a lifespan of at least 60 years. The roofing material is expected to last at least 25 years before major maintenance is necessary. We want the dome to stay. We want it to be put to the best possible use, to the benefit of London and the country as a whole.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

May I take that last remark from the Secretary of State as an assurance that the millennium dome will remain open after the millennium celebrations, so that those of us from the north of England and Scotland who wish to visit it will be able to do so, given that there will clearly be no access by public transport, and we will have to come by foot or bicycle to reach it?

Mr. Smith

That is complete nonsense. The hon. Lady should have listened to the answers that have already been given. I am sure that she and her constituents will be extremely welcome to come to the dome by public transport during the year 2000.