HC Deb 18 December 2000 vol 360 cc140-62
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

It may be for the convenience of the House to take motions 6 and 7 together.

Hon. Members


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

I beg to move, That the draft Millennium Commission (Substitution of a Later Date) Order 2000, which was laid before this House on 23rd November, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.

Two closely connected orders are before the House this evening, and I should like to begin by describing what the first does. The Millennium Commission (Substitution of a Later Date) Order 2000 extends the Millennium Commission's funding life until 20 August 2001. After that date, the commission will continue to operate as a grant-giving body, but we propose that it will receive no further direct income from the national lottery.

The Millennium Commission was established by the National Lottery etc. Act 1993. Its purpose is to fund projects to mark the year 2000 and the beginning of the third millennium. Under the 1993 Act, the Millennium Commission would stop receiving funding on 31 December this year. However, the Act recognised that that date might have to be extended and allows that to be done by order.

The decision to extend the funding life of the commission was made by the previous Administration. The then Secretary of State for National Heritage quoted a statement made by her Department on 18 January 1997. It said: An Order will accordingly be brought forward to extend the funding life of the commission for one year.—[Official Report, 20 January 1997; Vol. 288, c. 448W.] The reason for that decision was to cover variations from the estimates in the millennium exhibition's business plan without prejudicing the commission's existing grant programme. This Government reaffirmed that commitment.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

I want to be absolutely clear. Does extending the date to 20 August 2001 enable the commission to receive a grant in the period from 31 December 2000 to 20 August 2001 that it would not otherwise have received? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake that no further funding will be made available to the commission in that period?

Mr. Smith

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's question confuses the commission with the exhibition. The answer to the first part of his question is that the extension that we are now debating is an extension of the income life of the Millennium Commission. That means that the commission will receive extra income from the national lottery for the period from 31 December this year through to 20 August next year. I shall explain shortly exactly what the expected figures for that will be.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also appeared to allude to the grant of money by the Millennium Commission to the New Millennium Experience Company, which is running the dome. If he is referring to that, I can tell him that it is not our expectation or intention that any further funds will be made available by the Millennium Commission to the dome.

Mr. Hogg

Expectation and intention are not the same thing as an undertaking. Would the right hon. Gentleman now care to give an undertaking?

Mr. Smith

I can go further than that. I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that none of the funding that is being debated in the order relates in any way to any additional funding for the dome. I will come to that point more explicitly in a moment or two.

The Government reaffirmed the commitment that had been made by the previous Government about the protection of the existing programme of the Millennium Commission. The order extends the Commission's funding life to 20 August 2001. We estimate that that will mean that the Millennium Commission will receive £2,286.5 million of income from the national lottery. After that date, we propose that the commission will receive no further income from the proceeds of the national lottery. I should point out that the previous Administration had proposed an extension until the end of 2001. Our proposed extension is clearly shorter than that.

Let me say a few words about how we arrived at the new figure of £2,286.5 million, which is an increase—this answers the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point—of £269.5 million on the previous announced total of £2,017 million. The purpose of the increase is twofold. First, we agree with the view of the previous Administration that the Millennium Commission's other projects should not be adversely affected as a consequence of additional grants to the dome. This accounts for £198 million of the increase—£179 million of grants and £19 million of lost interest on that amount.

Secondly, there are some additional worthwhile activities that we believe that the commission should undertake within its lifetime budget. Those account for the remaining £71.5 million of the increase.

The additional £71.5 million will enable the commission to do a number of things that would not have been possible under its previously agreed income ceiling. It will be able to put £6.5 million towards the cost of new year's eve 2000 celebrations. A further £10 million will be available to support projects reflecting the achievements and aspirations of the black communities in the UK. An additional £30 million will be available to support the commission's existing £3 billion programme of projects, many of which are still being completed. With that funding, the commission will be able to ensure that its capital projects have a solid foundation on which to build for the future.

The order also allows the commission to use £25 million to support science centres. The commission is minded to set up an endowed fund to provide resources in a few years for refurbishment work on the network of science centres around the UK which the commission has funded. As well as being interesting to visit, science centres are playing a key role in informal education, both for schoolchildren and for adults. It is increasingly important that people have the opportunity to widen their knowledge of science, technology and medicine, as these will have a major impact on all our lives.

I am pleased to say that the Wellcome Trust, the world's largest medical charity, which has also made a major contribution to science centres across the UK, has agreed to consider working in partnership with the commission and providing funds to increase the value of the endowment that we propose. That fund will enable the centres to maintain their attractiveness both as visitor centres and educational resources.

All those are extremely worthwhile initiatives, and I am pleased that the commission will be able to support them if the order is approved.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

May I take the Secretary of State back to the £30 million for projects that are not yet complete? If those projects did not go ahead, for reasons unconnected with the Millennium Commission funding—such as a failure to find partnership funding—would the money then revert to the commission to be spent subsequently?

Mr. Smith

That is correct. That happened with the third phase of the Earth centre project near Doncaster, which will not now proceed. The money that the commission had earmarked for the third phase of that project has returned to the commission's fund and has been used for other projects.

Of course, there are projects that are proving to be extremely successful and which are incurring additional expenditure, for various reasons that are not necessarily the fault of those running them. For example, the Eden project in Cornwall, which is well known to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), has run into cashflow difficulties. That is an excellent project, which is proving to be extremely popular with visitors even before it is fully open. To assist the project, the commission has decided to make available modest additional funding. Such problems are arising in a variety of extremely worthwhile projects throughout the country, and this funding will enable the commission to tackle them sensibly and rationally.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

On the subject of money returning to the Millennium Commission, would my right hon. Friend tell us how much, if any, of the sums that are to be paid by Legacy in respect of its purchase of interests in the New Millennium Experience Company and the Greenwich site will find its way back to the commission?

Mr. Smith

First, it is not for me to speak about the precise details of any arrangement with Legacy, because I have not been involved in any of the direct discussions. Furthermore, the matter is not yet finalised: Legacy has been declared to be the preferred bidder and negotiations with the company are continuing. Until those negotiations are complete and 1, with other Members of Parliament, know the exact terms of the deal that has been concluded, it would be premature of me to answer in a specific fashion the question asked by my hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

May I press my right hon. Friend on that point? I phrased my question deliberately: I did not ask how much money would come, but how much the commission anticipated would come. The commission is like any other board of trustees or company board of directors; it must anticipate some funding. Is it anticipated that any money will return to the commission as a result of the Legacy bid? Is only a small sum anticipated? Can my right hon. Friend give a ballpark figure for the sum that the commission anticipates it might have to spend?

Mr. Smith

For the reasons that I advanced, it is impossible for me to give my hon. and learned Friend a ballpark figure. However, I can say that it is certainly the expectation of the commission that any funds provided by Legacy as part of a deal, as and when it is agreed, will return in part to the Millennium Commission through the New Millennium Experience Company, and in part to English Partnerships, which owns the ground on which the dome stands. However, I should state that there will be substantial costs associated with the decommissioning of the dome, which will have to be met from such proceeds. That is why it is impossible for me, at this stage, to give my hon. and learned Friend ballpark figures. However, it is my expectation that there will be a return to the Millennium Commission from such a disposal.

Mr. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)

If the life of the commission is not extended, might such schemes as the Portsmouth tower be jeopardised by a possible failure to receive funding?

Mr. Smith

Yes. If the order is not passed, several potential projects earmarked for funding by the commission will not receive their funding. In addition, any extra funds needed by projects such as the Eden project to ensure their successful completion would not be available from the commission.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

May I take the Secretary of State back to the question posed by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews)? Is not the right hon. Gentleman being needlessly coy about the value to the commission of the Legacy deal, if it goes ahead, given that a precedent was set by the Nomura transaction? If memory serves correctly, that transaction was to be worth about £105 million and the commission was to receive £40 million from that. Would it not be sensible to apply the same proportions in the case of Legacy?

Mr. Smith

We are talking about a deal that has not yet been concluded, figures that have not yet been finalised, and decommissioning costs that remain the subject of discussion and detailed analysis, so I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman in the specific fashion that he requires. However, I can say that the principle on which any such arrangement is likely to be based is that some funds will return to the New Millennium Experience Company and, through it, to the commission, and some funds will return to English Partnerships. Given the yet unresolved final nature of any such deal, I cannot give exact figures.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Smith

No. I must make some progress.

Much of the increase that is before us is required to make good the undertaking by this and the previous Administration that the Millennium Commission's other programmes should not be affected by grants to the dome. Without the order, there would be a hole in the commission's budget plans due to the grants made to the dome. The order repairs that hole and ensures that the commission's other programmes do not suffer. In other words, some of the additional money is a consequence of the dome, but it is not for the dome. It is to make good the money that the commission has already agreed to pay to the dome so that the commission can carry out all its other non-dome related activities, which are the vast bulk of its work.

I can assure the House that particularly in the light of NMEC's improved financial position, we do not intend any additional money to be provided to the dome. I can confirm that none of the additional money provided in the order beyond that already reported to Parliament will be paid to NMEC or any other body that may become responsible for the millennium dome.

11.41 pm
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

The debate will not be followed by a debate, except for a deferred vote. The Opposition are opposed to splitting debates from the votes that should naturally follow them.

The Secretary of State has his customary look of being rather pleased with himself written all over his face. He has no right to he pleased with himself, because the order represents a humiliating admission of failure. In retrospect, it was prudent of the previous Administration, in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), whom I am pleased to see in his place, played a distinguished part, to put in place a mechanism for protecting the interests of the Millennium Commission and its projects in the event of the dome failing. However, nobody could have believed that under this Government that failure would be such a huge and appalling disgrace, with such enormous repercussions for other worthwhile causes.

The public are rightly angered by the Government's handling of the dome project and by the hundreds of millions of pounds of overspending and waste that it represents. It became clear early this year that the dome was not financially viable, yet the Government and the company insisted that the entire project was a great success. I shall remind the House of the figures that lie behind the need for the order.

The original contribution from the national lottery to the dome was £399 million. To that, in the autumn of last year, was added £50 million of supposedly repayable contingency funding. Will the money ever be repaid? In February, the dome received a further £60 million, again ostensibly repayable. Will that money ever be repaid? In May, yet further money was poured into the dome—£29 million. In August and September, further sums of £43 million and £47 million respectively were sunk in the project. Will any of this money ever be repaid?

There came a point when not even the Government could spin the dome as anything but a dome and a drain on the national lottery. What did they do? They started to blame other people. Everybody was responsible but them, and to incompetence they then added cowardice. It remains a matter of lasting shame on the Government that no Minister, not even Lord Falconer, has seen fit to do the honourable thing and resign. However, not even Lord Falconer's resignation, richly deserved though it might be, could bring back the millions of pounds that have been flushed down the project—so we have the order before us tonight.

Parliament was not, of course, asked to approve any of the additional grants to the dome. We had no say in that, but we in the Opposition have made our views known. It was wrong, and everyone, including Ministers, knew that it was wrong to continue to bail out the dome. That was done for the worst possible reason: it was done for expediency.

Mr. Chris Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman therefore answer this question: if he had been faced with the advice that we were given at the time, that the choice was between making an additional grant to the dome or incurring far greater expenditure to the public purse by pulling the plug at that stage, which decision would he have taken?

Mr. Ainsworth

Once the full information about the project is available, which it is not yet, we may be in a better position to consider that question. On two occasions the Millennium Commission's accounting officer advised not giving the dome more money, on the ground that it would not be a prudent use of public funds, and on two occasions the Secretary of State had him overruled. That does not say much for the right hon. Gentleman's prudence.

Mr. Maclean

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. By this year, when the dome was making a loss, that was because of the Government's interference since the election, particularly by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). They filled the dome with Labour-inspired ideas which the public did not want to come and see. If they had put proper stuff in it, the dome might have been a success.

Mr. Ainsworth

My right hon. Friend is exactly right, but I am sure that at this time of night Mr. Deputy Speaker would not want me to be tempted down a route that may not be strictly relevant to the order. If the dome had had anything halfway decent in it, it would not have been the financial disaster that it became. If it had had halfway decent financial management, the problem of low visitor numbers would have been considerably mitigated.

The dome was bailed out for reasons of political expediency. It was done to save the Prime Minister's face. The project which the Prime Minister described as the first paragraph of my next election manifesto had become so closely allied to the image of new Labour that new Labour could not afford its demise.

If the Secretary of State thinks that he can claim any credit, except perhaps from the Prime Minister, for wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on political expediency, he can think again. The money spent on the dome will never be seen again. It has gone for ever. It is possible that some may be recouped by the proceeds of the sale of the dome, but not enough.

Having bungled the operation of the dome, Ministers are bungling the disposal of the site. When Nomura pulled out of its deal last September, an opportunity existed to open up the future of the dome to a new competition designed to maximise any payback of commission funds and raise additional sums for regeneration. Instead, the Government stubbornly returned to exclusive discussions with a bidder that they had previously rejected.

Again, the Government are being driven by expediency. They want the dome off their books before the general election. Ministers have refused to deny reports that Government advisers have said that, without the dome, the site could be worth a further £300 million. That would be enough to pay back the lottery good causes. It would be enough to obviate the need for the order, and leave some to spare.

It is clear that major doubts exist about the viability of the proposed sale to Legacy. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) made a valiant stab at trying to get the information that we have been trying to get for weeks about the status of the Legacy deal and what it might mean for Millennium Commission funds. I do not know, and I do not know whether the Secretary of State knows, whether the present discussions with Legacy will lead to a deal. Ministers have been curiously vague about that.

The attempt to stitch up a cosy deal with Legacy before the general election may yet fall through. Given the Government's pig-headed approach to the disposal and future use of the dome, it is not possible to factor any future sale proceeds into calculations about the overall cost of the dome to the lottery.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made an important point and attempted to get to the bottom of what, precisely, the order is about. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for repeating the assurance of Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who said in another place: none of the additional money provided for in this order … will be paid to NMEC or to any other body which may have responsibility for the Millennium Dome.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 December 2000; Vol. 620, c. 512.] I am not only grateful for the Secretary of State's unequivocal assurance, but extremely relieved to have it. I assure him that we shall hold him to it. I say again, as I have often said before, that not another penny must be spent on that failed project.

It is a great pity that the Government have come to share that view only in December, when they had the option and opportunity to stop the rot in February, May, August and September. The dome will cast a long shadow over the Government, but Conservative Members do not want it to blight other millennium projects. The vast bulk of the additional millennium money—£198 million worth—that will become available as a result of tonight's order is attributable to the dome. That is the scale of the outrage. A sum of £198 million is attributable to the dome, but will not be spent on it. It will be spent on other projects whose funds have been hijacked by the dome.

I note what the Secretary of State said about £30 million—a large sum—being set aside for other commission projects. However, I should be grateful if, in her closing remarks, the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting told the House which projects funded by the Millennium Commission are likely to need extra lottery funding over and above their agreed budgets. Will she comment on the thought that those projects are finding it difficult to obtain the sponsorship money that they need to complete because of the problems associated with the dome and the fact that the Government have managed to give even the millennium a bad name?

The House will also wish to know on what basis spending £6.5 million on fireworks for the coming new year's eve is reckoned to represent good value for a good cause.

Mr. Maclean

That is the second chapter of the manifesto.

Mr. Ainsworth

It is certainly not in Ken Livingstone's manifesto.

I am happy to endorse the funding for science centres which, I very much hope, will create places of lasting educational value. It seems perverse to spend a quarter of the amount allocated to science centres on a single night's partying. This is an unhappy occasion and Ministers should be ashamed of themselves. They should be ashamed of the way in which they have handled the dome, of the waste and of creeping in here late at night to debate this sad order.

11.53 pm
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

I shall be brief, given the time and the hour. We are here to debate whether the House should breathe new life into the Millennium Commission, which is a creature of statute and unique in many ways. However, in legal terms, it is no better and no worse than trustees. We are therefore talking about a board of trustees. It is not the Government; indeed, several trustees who sit on the commission are not Government Members. The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) is here—I hope that he will speak later, perhaps in defence of the commission—and he is a member of the board.

We are here to consider whether the House is justified, given what has occurred over the past year, in placing its confidence in the same board of trustees as has held the stewardship of the Millennium Commission in that period. I suggest that it is not, and that the way the board of trustees has conducted its affairs in the past year should mean that it forfeits the confidence of the House.

When we vote on Wednesday, we will cling to nurse for fear of finding something worse. However, even if we vote to end the board's existence, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson) can rest in peace about the project in his constituency. The answer that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave him was plumb wrong. Even if we got rid of the board, the money in the trust fund would continue to exist, the law would take its course, and other trustees would have the responsibility for administering it. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North can therefore relax.

An aggregate vote in early-day motions over the past year totals hundreds of hon. Members who, whatever their political complexion, have expressed time and again their abhorrence at the hundreds of millions of pounds that have been leached out of the Millennium Commission. It is a privilege to serve on the commission. There are few pleasures so great as giving away money. If it is not one's own money, the pleasure is lessened; none the less, it is a great privilege and pleasure to be charged with the stewardship of £2 billion to donate for the public good and according to the public will. However, it is not difficult. All one has to do is to examine a project and decide whether it provides best value for the money. In charitable terms, best value is simply defined. It means that it inures the public good to the value of the money that is being spent. If one is voting millions of pounds, on every occasion, one asks whether the project fulfils that criterion.

I do not agree with the censure of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had every right to come to the House and look happy and self-satisfied when he arrived. I could not see whether he did, but he was justified in doing so. Most of what has come from the Millennium Commission is a joy beyond telling. I sometimes drive past the new botanical gardens in Wales. They are a joy—in learning, scholarship and entertainment.

Although we have every right and duty to praise, we also have a right and duty to criticise and indict when it is clear that hundreds of millions of pounds have been used not for the public good, but to purchase the political and commercial debt of Government. That has happened in the case of the millennium dome. It is worth re-examining the dome's history to provide a short chronology.

It is clear from the auditor's report that, as we all knew, the dome was commercially unviable by the beginning of the year. By February, it was clear that it was trading insolvently, and thus illegally under insolvency legislation. My right hon. Friend wrote to Charles Falconer to tell him that the dome was trading insolvently. At that time, £60 million was donated to the company. It was difficult to criticise because there was reason to suppose that granting the extra money, on top of the £449 million, was just sustainable. However, that did not apply in May, when £29 million was given directly to the New Millennium Experience Company after the PricewaterhouseCoopers report.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report starts with this stark sentence: The company is insolvent. This will be a matter of concern to the directors. I have dabbled at the edge of commercial jurisprudence and can tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have never seen an accountant's report so stark in its conclusion. The Millennium Commission gave that completely insolvent company £29 million of public money and subsequently gave it a further £90 million of public money, without hope of redress or reward. Why? I suggest that the answer is to be found buried in the middle of the auditor's report.

That report is clear that, on 22 June, the NMEC directors went to the Government to demand an indemnity. They did so because they knew that they were trading illegally, and the Government gave it to them. I did not know that; the House did not know it. That was not revealed, to my knowledge, until we received the auditor's report. At that point, because of that indemnity, the Government, and nobody else, were liable for the company's debts. If the company, which had been trading since January 2000, had gone into liquidation, the Government would have been responsible the minute that indemnity was given.

Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley)

Do I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman to be saying that the Government gave the NMEC directors an indemnity that public money would be put behind their undertaking?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

That is absolutely, and with precision, what I am saying.

Mr. Heseltine

indicated dissent.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I have the letter here, because I asked for a copy and my hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting was good enough to give one to me. The right hon. Gentleman reacts with shock, but I am sure that he would have done the same had he seen this paragraph. I can tell him what it says: In consideration of their continuing to act as directors the Government will indemnify the directors of NMEC in respect of any personal civil liability— I would like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to listen with particular care to this— (including without limitation wrongful trading or similar misfeasance actions by reasons of the company's insolvency)… That was the guarantee—the indemnity given to the directors. Without the knowledge of, and without recourse to, the House, the NMEC directors were given by the Government an open-handed, retrospective indemnity against wrongful trading—trading while insolvent—for the millennium dome.

From that point on, the Government, and nobody else, were liable for the trading of the NMEC. I am appalled that the right hon. Member for Henley did not know that, because when he, with other commissioners, voted £119 million of public funds in May, August and September, he should have known and, indeed, should have been told that what he was paying for—the debt that he was buying—was one owed not by the commission, but by the Government. That is the point that answers what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said.

Mr. Heseltine

indicated dissent.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

The right hon. Gentleman will make his own speech soon, and I want to hear what he has to say.

That answers the point raised continually by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, which says that we knew in May that the cost of closing the company would be greater than that of keeping it open and subsidising it. I have a question, which I hope will be answered, and I pose it to the right hon. Gentleman and to my right hon. Friend: cost to whom? The commission had no legal liability to bail out the Government—absolutely none at all. The commission is a board of trustees. Its only liability was to its beneficiaries—to the public, not to Government.

When the accounting officer went to the chairman of the commission and said, "I will require your personal signature before I endorse this," that is precisely what he was saying. He was saying that the commission was acting outside the ambit of its trust: it was buying Government debt and nothing else from May onwards. That is absolutely clear.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

The hon. and learned Gentleman touches on an extremely important point. With respect to my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), I must say that it is not inconceivable that commissioners were not informed of the request for indemnities. It is, however, inconceivable that Lord Falconer was not informed. What has the hon. and learned Gentleman to say about the fact that, giving evidence to the Select Committee in July—a month after the indemnities had been granted—Lord Falconer denied any knowledge of them?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I cannot answer for Lord Falconer. I can only express my surprise that anyone would not have known about the indemnities, so critical were they. Had they not been given, the entire board of NMEC would have resigned. The members of the board knew that they were personally liable, and—well heeled though most of them undoubtedly are—a liability of £200 million-odd would have been more than they would have wished to bear.

On those indemnities everything then hung. I hope very much that the right hon. Member for Henley will tell us whether he knew of them in May—as a commissioner—at the time he voted, as he must have, for £100 million-odd of public money. If he did not, there was a singular failure on someone's part.

My right hon. Friend well knows that it gives me no pleasure to speak in these terms. He also knows, as does every Member present—it is an open secret—that he was not in favour of the project at the outset. It landed on his desk, and he has weathered the storm—rightly or wrongly, but that is another matter. Anyway, that is what he has had to do, and storm it has undoubtedly been.

This has been a sad, sad tale of a lack of public accountability. I shall end my speech now, because the hour is late; but the tale is summed up by something that Charles Falconer said to me, not in private but in public, on a radio programme. When we were talking about the use of the Millennium Commission for payment of the money, he said, "What you must understand is that we treat the Millennium Commission as a bank."

By virtue of its structure, the Millennium Commission consists of trustees. Trustees are not a bank, and if Members are being asked to continue the life of a bank, they should refuse to do so.

12.8 am

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

The debate has taken a somewhat wider turn that might have been expected, although I suppose that Conservative Front Benchers will miss no opportunity to discuss the fate of the dome.

There have been extensive discussions, which will doubtless continue; but I think that this modest proposal to extend the life of the Millennium Commission until 20 August is entirely justifiable, in the terms advanced by the then Government when they anticipated that this might well have to happen. The then Secretary of State made it plain that contingencies would result if the life of the Millennium Commission and its funding were extended.

Notwithstanding what the Secretary of State said about the dome's indirect impact on the Millennium Commission's finances, there is considerable justification for allowing the work that the commission has begun on several other projects to be properly completed. If fault there is in the management of the dome project, it would be unfortunate if the fallout were to damage those projects irreparably. They are of a scale of expenditure that is all together different from that encompassed by the expenditure on the dome. They are modest in total and should have the support of the House in principle. It should allow the order to go through without opposition.

12.11 am
Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley)

I start by declaring an interest as a millennium commissioner. Indeed, I was one of the original millennium commissioners, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke).

When we came to deal with the problems of financing the dome and with the decision to set up a public body to organise the arrangements, NMEC's directors asked questions as to their liabilities. Without being specific about the date, which is secondary to the substantive issue, the hypothesis was put to me as the Minister most immediately responsible: what happens if we are faced with a serious financial situation? Self-evidently, no member of the public will accept Government-organised directorships if there is a risk that they personally would carry a liability if the project failed. We would never be able to recruit citizens to public bodies if they had to put their personal resources at stake.

At that time, it looked as though we had reached the point at which the project itself was at serious risk because the one absolutely clear decision that the previous Government took and that the present Government have maintained is that there would be no public money in the project; there would be no taxpayers' money ever in the project. Faced with that question by the NMEC directors, I personally devised the arrangement that the Secretary of State has outlined: in the event of the dome producing a negative financial situation, the life of the commission would be extended by order to finance any uncosted deficit that might arise.

Therefore, I know how it happened. I personally designed the arrangement. It was designed to deal with a contingency that none of us believed would arise, but that hypothetically had to be addressed. Sadly, as we have said in earlier debates, the financial position of the dome worked out very differently from the way we had hoped, but we had put in place the arrangements that we are discussing today.

As a millennium commissioner, it is incumbent on me to make it clear that I will vote for the extension of the order. How could I do anything other than that, having designed the arrangement to deal with the very contingency that we are now discussing?

I tell my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) that I have spent many years—although not many more now—in this place, but I have never yet been characterised as one who spends his time trying to make life easy for Labour Members and their activities. However, in that particular context, if I have failed in the high standards that I have set myself as a Conservative Member, I offer my profound apologies to my Front-Bench colleagues. I did not realise that, in the many months in which we have wrestled with the dome issue, particularly in recent years, I was writing the Labour party's next manifesto or bailing out the fortunes of this or that Minister in the current Government.

If that is the way in which the Millennium Commission's decision-making process is seen, I can only say that that is not how we interpreted the process. Without wishing in any way to trespass on the good will of my fellow commissioners, I think that one or two of them might find it marginally surprising to learn that the deliberations in which they have been conducting themselves were designed to help the Government's fortunes. I am thinking, particularly of my noble Friend Lord Glentoran, who is a Conservative Front Bencher in the House of Lords and has been a distinguished commissioner for as long as I have. I think that he, too, would be marginally surprised if it were reported to him—I am sure that he will read the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey—that he was acting for the motives that have been suggested.

The circumstances were not those that we sought, but they had to be dealt with. I tell the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) that I do not think that, faced with the circumstances facing us, any hon. Member would have taken the simplistic decision to close the dome. We had invested hundreds of millions of pounds in a project that, at that time—I will be the first to say it—was beginning to show troubles. However, considerations in closing the dome would have included enormous potential debts and unquantified legal actions. None of us could have known where the matter would have ended, what the courts would have determined and what writs would have been issued.

I am not talking only about the simplistic issue of the creditors who would have queued up for their money. Presumably, the hon. and learned Member for Medway was implying in his speech that the creditors should go hang and that, if the dome had closed, all those who believed that it was in some way a public organisation would have been told that they had just got it wrong. It would have been explained to them, "Bad luck, old boy." The staff who would have had to be made redundant would not have been paid. Presumably that is what was in the mind of the hon. and learned Gentleman.

From the hon. and learned Gentleman's very erudite speech, I suspect that he knows that one cannot pick and choose which creditors one supports. One either stands behind a project or one does not. It is incalculable where the project would have ended up. It is perfectly true that the Millennium Commission's accounting officer did say to us that there were not value for money grounds on which we could justify the project's continuation. However, at the same time, he very clearly said that there were other grounds on which we could justify continued support for the project. One of those grounds—for me, the overwhelmingly most important one—was regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

The right hon. Gentleman has addressed various issues that I raised. Just now, he said that the accountant said that there were other grounds to support the project, such as rejuvenation of the Greenwich peninsula. However, he is simply wrong about that. He is totally, 100 per cent. wrong about that. The accountant said—I have read the report—that, in May, that justification was no longer tenable because all the benefit of rejuvenation had already been realised. That is what he said to the chairman. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to check that point because he is wrong.

The right hon. Member for Henley says that I have implied that the creditors should go hang. I am sure that that is not a deliberate misinterpretation of what I said, but it is certainly a clear one. I have said in the clearest possible terms that it was absolutely clear to anyone looking at this matter that the liability was the Government's, not the commissioners'. With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he had been, but was no longer, a member of the Government; he was a commissioner, with all the duties of a commissioner.

Mr. Heseltine

I have not been given legal advice on this, but I understand that the Government would have said two things. First, all directors of such public bodies have such an underwritten assurance, which is within normal practice. Secondly, in any assurance that the Government gave about the underpinning of the organisation, they were merely resting upon the assurance that I had first given to the Millennium Commission that the Government would use their powers to extend the life of the commission and therefore its access to lottery funding. It was on that basis that the Government were able to give assurances about the cash flow requirements of the dome. That is how I would imagine the present Government would have seen the situation, because that is how I would have seen it had I been in that situation—knowing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer under the previous Government and this one had an iron rule that no public money was to flow.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

If such a blanket cover existed on behalf of the directors, why does my right hon. Friend think that they went to the Government in May to seek personal indemnities against any action for unlawful trading?

Mr. Heseltine

I cannot know; I am not and never have been a director, and I did not talk to the directors about any anxieties that they may have had. I cannot answer that interesting question from my hon. Friend; it is not my responsibility to do so. However, a director in circumstances where hypothetical contingencies are becoming of greater concern every day is bound to ask such questions not only of his lawyers, but of the Government of the day. These questions are more for the Secretary of State than for me; this matter did not have to be addressed by the Millennium Commission.

Mr. Chris Smith

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the accounting officer of the Millennium Commission said to the commissioners, in terms, that although his precise advice was that the grant under consideration was not value for money, none the less there were other material factors that commissioners could and indeed should take into account in making any decision? Has not he subsequently confirmed that had he personally been a commissioner making that decision, he would have made the same decision as the commissioners?

Mr. Heseltine

The Secretary of State reinforces my point, which the hon. and learned Member for Medway sought to challenge. There is not the slightest doubt that on one of the earlier occasions when we gave additional funding to the dome project, the accounting officer gave us advice that the funding was not value for money in the narrow sense, but was totally justifiable in the wider sense of the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula. I remember that clearly. There were other circumstances later in which different advice was given. However, there was always a clear option for the Millennium Commission to take a wide perspective as to its responsibilities and ambitions for the project. It was always within that context that we preserved the legal base on which we took our decisions.

We all know that the dome project has not worked out in the way we hoped, or originally conceived and planned. However, I do not believe that there was a time when a responsible Millennium Commission would have closed the project down. If we had ever done so, no one knows what costs might have been incurred on the project. My experience in government tells me that it is as near unthinkable as any practical policy is for a Government organisation to close down and let the creditors and employees go hang. That would have been a wholly unacceptable decision, and I am delighted that the Millennium Commission refused to take it.

12.25 am
Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

May I say how pleased we are to see the Secretary of State here tonight? On nights when the House no longer meets after 10 o'clock, it is refreshing to see a Secretary of State handling an order such as this. We are, unfortunately, used to important measures and Second Readings being dealt with by junior Ministers, and that is an insult to the House. On a motion that is reasonably important but not a mega-issue, to see the Secretary of State here as well as the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting says a lot for the right hon. Gentleman, and I congratulate him.

No one could accuse my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) of helping to write the Labour party manifesto, or of doing anything, as a Minister or a commissioner, designed to assist the Labour party. He will be as disappointed as everyone else about what happened to his marvellous vision of the dome. It was to be full of the best of British, showing the development of Britain as a nation over the past few hundred years and all the progress in science and technology that we can make in the next millennium. Unfortunately, after 1997, the project was hijacked by the Labour party and the dome was filled with cool Britannia pap. If that had not happened, more people might have been willing to visit it.

We all saw the press releases and comments in the press from those who inspected what the Government put in the dome. We read about the interference of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) when he was responsible for the project, and how he contradicted the New Millennium Experience Company and changed his mind. It was not surprising that the number of people going to the dome was drastically below expectation, with the resulting financial consequences for the company.

I am generally in sympathy with extending the time limit from 31 December, but I do not believe that 20 August is the right date. We need longer—the proposed period is too short for the Millennium Commission to deal with the necessary issues.

The Secretary of State rightly pointed out that some projects are behind schedule and new problems are arising daily, requiring the Millennium Commission to continue in existence for some time and allocate more funds to deal with those problems. He mentioned the Eden project which, he seemed to suggest, was somewhere in Devon or Cornwall. We know a bit about Eden up in Cumbria, given that that is where the River Eden is. I know that I cannot get a reply to this point tonight because I did not anticipate Eden being mentioned or that I would make a constituency point. However, I should be grateful if the Secretary of State and the Minister would look carefully at the problems experienced in Carlisle by a project called Hadrian's bridge, to go across the River Eden. We may need considerably longer than the 20 August in which to sort out the problem.

I am not making a blatantly political point, but the problem is that the previous Labour council—perhaps because of the constraints to get contracts signed in time and the pressures that it was put under by the Millennium Commission—signed agreements for various projects in Carlisle, one of which was a bridge across the River Eden.

Mr. Chris Smith

The project was discussed at the last meeting of the Millennium Commission. We await with great interest and sympathy proposals from Carlisle city council for Hadrian's bridge.

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the date of 20 August applies not to decisions taken by the Millennium Commission but only to the flow of funds into the Millennium Commission from the national lottery distribution fund. The flow of funds ceases on 20 August, but the commission stays very much in being.

Mr. Maclean

I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I was not being misleading—I suggest to him that the date should be later because I want more funds to be allocated for some special projects.

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's comments on Hadrian's bridge. There were problems: the previous Labour council let the contracts before the local government elections; there was pressure from the Millennium Commission; and the bids for the bridge proved grossly inaccurate, even though the structural engineers—with the best will in the world—thought that they were accurate. The new council faces the problem that the river is extremely sandy at that point, and the engineers suggest that the bill for installing deeper pilings to hold up the bridge will be at least £1 million.

I do not want to go into more detail on the matter, but I flag it up for Ministers and suggest that, when proposals are received from the Conservative council in Carlisle, they recognise that the council is wrestling with that inherited problem—that is as political as I shall be. The new costs are grossly in excess of the original estimates made by the previous Labour council and accepted by the Conservatives when they came into power. In those circumstances—the speed with which the Labour council felt that it had to move and the new costs that have been incurred—I hope that Ministers will consider the proposals carefully.

I am interested in the fact that the Millennium Commission concluded that it is legitimate for a trust fund to be set up to deal with the future refurbishment and repair of the science projects. If it is legitimate to set up a trust fund for the on-going maintenance of certain projects, why would it not be in order to do so for the on-going maintenance of other projects? If it is legitimate to spend—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal)

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is going a little wide of the motion.

Mr. Maclean

I take your criticism, Madam Deputy Speaker. It was the Secretary of State who raised the issue of trust funds for science projects—I see the right hon. Gentleman nodding. However, although he may have gone down the wrong route—I do not want to follow him and earn your wrath, Madam Deputy Speaker—my point is directly relevant to the date. If 20 August has been specified and if the Millennium Commission has decided to spend money on trust funds for science projects, I suggest that, on the same principle, it would be perfectly legitimate to set up trust funds for other projects. That would require additional money and the date of 20 August would need to be set back, so that additional money could go to the Millennium Commission to be allocated.

Similarly, if it is legitimate to spend £6 million not on a capital project, but on a big fireworks display for the millennium, surely it would be legitimate to pick up some of the running costs of some of the projects that have already been funded. I realise that, according to the original plan, only capital costs would be covered, but if we can have trust funds for future refurbishment, surely it is sensible to set up such funds to deal with the running costs of some of the millennium projects that are sitting empty—they are white elephants.

Is it not true that a pop music museum in Sheffield is a complete economic disaster? That is not the fault of the Government, nor of the Millennium Commission—probably—but the fault of over-optimistic financial guidelines.

Mr. Chris Smith

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the national centre for popular music in Sheffield has nothing whatever to do with the Millennium Commission.

Mr. Maclean

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that correction; perhaps I picked the wrong example. If the Secretary of State can assure me that every capital project funded by the Millennium Commission is still working properly and does not have problems with running costs, I shall completely withdraw my suggestion. However, is it not true that numerous millennium projects are experiencing dire running cost problems? That is not the fault of the commission or of the Government; it is due to the over-optimistic claims of those who designed the projects in the first place. Are we to leave those projects empty and do nothing with them?

I suggest that the deadline of 20 August should be extended for at least another year, possibly until 30 December 2002, so that extra funds can be put in and the projects do not become white elephants. The Millennium Commission could set up a new trust fund to deal with the running costs.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Maclean

Yes, I shall happily give way to my right hon. Friend, but then I want to conclude my speech.

Mr. Forth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as the order is not amendable in any way, we have the difficult choice of whether to support it in full as it is, or vote against it because the date is too early, or should not be there at all? Is that not the unenviable decision that we regrettably have to make?

Mr. Maclean

My right hon. Friend is right. Some Opposition Members may wish to vote against the order because they totally oppose the Millennium Commission's continuing one minute beyond 31 December. I may have severe criticisms of some of the decisions made by the commission, and of some of the projects that have been funded, but some very good projects have also been funded. In my constituency, we now have one of the best village halls in the country, and we are grateful for the £70,000 that the Millennium Commission gave towards it. It is one of the best bargains, and one of the best-constructed buildings, in the country.

I am in favour of the commission's continuing, and also in favour of the order—except that it does not go far enough. I therefore intend to vote against it, so that the Government can replace it with an order to extend the period slightly and allow sufficient funds to be provided to deal with some of the problems that I have mentioned.

12.36 am
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

I shall be brief, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) for having finished speaking when he did. I declare the briefest interest as a former chairman of the Millennium Commission; it was a great pleasure to serve on that commission with my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). The one contribution that I may have made was to help advise the then Prime Minister on its membership. I congratulate my successors who served on the commission on a series of striking successes, which it helped to choose, support and sustain.

The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) asked about Legacy, and I congratulate the Secretary of State on the cautious words with which he responded, particularly in the context of the principle of the preferred bidder. I recall that that principle also appeared in connection with the letting of the new lottery contract—and, on the whole, it is a pretty dangerous concept to work with. The Secretary of State was prudent to use such cautious language.

During the imbroglio that we discussed in the earlier part of the debate, I asked the right hon. Gentleman an oral question about what the money that was lent to the New Millennium Experience Company would have been spent on if that loan had not been made available. In other words, would some projects go unfinanced simply because the money had been distributed? The Secretary of State gave me the reassuring answer that, to the best of his knowledge, none of the commission's other plans would be affected.

However, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) has implied that some other plans were affected by the porousness of the dome's finances. Frankly, that is now a matter initially, possibly, for the Comptroller and Auditor General, and subsequently for historians. I do not propose to probe it further this evening.

I have one elegiac question to ask the Secretary of State in his present capacity as the chairman of the Millennium Commission, which will probably be answered by the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting when she winds up. It is about what will happen to the programme of bursaries after 20 August 2001. The bursary scheme has always seemed an admirable programme, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley and I can remember discussing as long ago as 1994. In my view, the benefits of the programme are exemplified by the designer of coracles in County Down, who, as I recall, was one of the guests selected to come to the Royal Gallery on new year's eve.

Will the Minister—or the Secretary of State, who appears to be about to intervene—tell me what the basis for financing the bursaries will be after 20 August next year?

Mr. Chris Smith

The position is that the commission has made £100 million available for millennium awards, as they are now called, during the current period—the four or five years bestriding the millennium year. That programme is now well under way; many thousands of people have received those awards. However, our intention is that a further £100 million should form an endowment for the future in perpetuity. The income from that endowment will be used to finance similar awards in perpetuity—provided, of course, that the order is passed tonight. If it is not passed tonight, the £100 million endowment will be put in jeopardy.

Mr. Brooke

If those are the last words that the Secretary of State utters on the order, I am pleased that they were happy and pleasurable, and I am grateful to him for them.

12.40 am
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

The debate has shown the strength of feeling across the House about the millennium dome's funding, especially the almost £200 million extra that the Millennium Commission has given the dome, which is the cause of the Government's having to introduce the order tonight. Many right hon. and hon. Members feel extremely strongly about that.

I was interested in the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) —I think that I heard him correctly—that the scale of the failure was not envisaged at the start of the project, although his prudence in ensuring that such a mechanism existed to provide the Millennium Commission with on-going funding has been borne out by events.

The exchange of views between the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and my right hon. Friends will become required reading for those who wish to delve further into the issues relating to the awarding of the extra money to the dome and the extent to which Parliament was not properly informed of what was going on. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that there is reason to doubt whether Parliament would have approved that extra money if we had been asked to grant it under the kind of order that we are debating tonight. Of course it could be argued that matters are made worse by closing down the dome prematurely, but the real issue is that Parliament has never been told the whole truth.

From what we have heard in this brief debate, we can take it that the serious criticism of the ministerial handling of the millennium dome is justified. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) rightly said, no Minister has resigned; no one has seen fit to take responsibility for what has happened. However, the debate is not about awarding more money to the dome; it has already been given the money.

We welcome the assurance that the dome will not receive any more money, but I should be grateful if the Minister would make it clear in winding up that the promise, if I understand it correctly, is that the dome will receive no more money from the lottery. I want the difference to be made clear. Will it receive no more money from the Government, or is not there a possibility that they will have to underwrite some of the dome's decommissioning costs if a deal, such as that involving Legacy, goes through? That is not the same as saying that there will be no more lottery money. Will the dome be given public money? We certainly read in the newspapers the suggestion that it might be. Money has been earmarked for other worthy projects, and we would like to know in due course which projects will be supported by the £30 million to which the Secretary of State referred.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) spoke of what is happening in his constituency, but the real point about this debate is that we are being asked to replace money that is being filched to support the dome so that other projects will not lose out. Parliament has been placed in an impossible position. To provide more money would add insult to injury, because many parts of Britain think that the dome is a London project. London has already received more than its fair share of Millennium Commission money.

The regions feel impoverished, and they will feel more so if the order is not accepted. The Government have mismanaged the dome project and the order is proof of that. However, this debate is by no means the final chapter of a very sorry mess. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey said that it was a sad order, but we would exacerbate the sadness if other millennium projects failed for lack of money. I therefore urge my right hon. Friends not to vote against the order on Wednesday.

12.46 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Janet Anderson)

I thank hon. Members for their contributions to the debate and for staying late to make them. Several points have been made and, although I have little time left, I shall try to respond to as many of them as possible. However, many questions have been answered in the debate.

I shall briefly remind the House why the order is important. The first point to reiterate is one that has already been made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The order is not directly about the dome. None of the additional funding provided in the order, beyond that already reported to Parliament, will be paid out in connection with the dome. However, both this Administration and, as the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) reminded us—it was his proposal initially—the previous Administration gave undertakings to the Millennium Commission that its support for the dome should not damage its other programmes. We continue to believe that that is the correct approach, and that is why we have introduced this order to extend the Millennium Commission's life until 20 August 2001.

I note that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) said that he thought that that date was too early. I know the Eden river very well, because my parents used to live in his constituency. Sadly, they never voted for him.

The order honours the commitment that the commission's existing grant programmes and worthwhile new initiatives should not be damaged by its grants to the dome. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already outlined some of the programmes that will be made possible by the order.

In addition to allowing the commission to continue its current programmes—which would be in danger if the order were not approved—the additional resources will enable it to implement some excellent new programmes. For example, £6.5 million will go towards the cost of the new year's eve 2000 celebrations; £10 million will support projects reflecting the achievements and aspiration of black communities in the United Kingdom; and £30 million will be available to support the commission's existing £3 billion programme of projects, many of which are still being completed. As my right hon. Friend said, the funding will enable the commission to ensure that its capital projects have a solid foundation for the future.

I also remind the House of the exciting opportunities offered by the proposed link between the commission and the Wellcome Trust, which will lever in more money to support science centres. The proposed endowment will enable those centres to maintain their attractiveness as visitor centres and as educational resources.

The hon. Member for East Surrey knows only too well that Parliament was first made aware of what would happen on 20 January 1997. The then Secretary of State for National Heritage announced that an order would be introduced to extend the funding life of the Millennium Commission to make provision to cover variations from the estimates in the millennium exhibition's business plan without prejudicing the commission's existing grant programme.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether I could list some of the projects whose funding might be affected if the order is not approved tonight. Some 100 projects are not completed, and it is open to them to apply to the Millennium Commission for funds. I cannot be expected to predict the decisions that the commissioners will make if such applications are made, but there is no doubt that the funding of some projects would be affected.

I remind the House about the regeneration potential of the dome. It has already created about 5,000 jobs in construction and operation. Taking the peninsula as a whole, about 13,000 people have gained work in the construction and operation of projects. Greenwich council predicts that 30,000 jobs will be created over the next seven years as a direct result of the catalyst created by the dome.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) spoke at some length about insolvency and the indemnity that was granted to the directors of the New Millennium Experience Company. I know that he is much more well-versed in legal matters than I am, but the fact that the directors sought an indemnity does not demonstrate that the company was trading while insolvent. The directors reasonably wanted to protect themselves, and the right hon. Member for Henley made a point about the difficulties of recruiting people to public bodies.

The indemnity does not exceed that which is routinely offered to board members of all non-departmental public bodies, in line with Treasury and Cabinet Office guidelines. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, as sponsor Department, issued the indemnity as NMEC lacks the necessary powers to do so. The indemnity is limited and is offered on the basis that directors have first recourse to an existing commercial policy. The Treasury's advice was that the NMEC indemnity did not need to be separately reported to Parliament as it was covered by a Treasury minute of December 1998 reporting indemnities to all NDPB board members. I hope that that helps to clear up that point.

I thank the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) for his measured contribution and his support. I thank the right hon. Member for Henley for his welcome contribution. Like him, I cannot think for a minute that many members of the Millennium Commission would view themselves as friends or supporters of the Labour party. We should remember that the commission is an all-party body. I commend the order to the House.

Question put:

Madam Deputy Speaker

I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members


Division deferred till Wednesday 20 December, pursuant to Order [7 November 2000].