HL Deb 22 June 1995 vol 565 cc408-10

3.25 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether Cabinet Ministers have been consulted about projects chosen by the independent Millennium Commission.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage will be writing to other Cabinet Ministers for their views on the Millennium Commission's short-list of major projects to help inform his and the President of the Board of Trade's input into the decision-making process. Decisions on which projects to support will be taken by the nine members of the Millennium Commission entirely independently of government.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for answering so candidly and confirming a report in the Independent newspaper that the Secretary of State has written to members of the Cabinet asking for their views on the priority to be assigned to various short-listed projects. Will she tell the House how such action squares with the several assurances of total independence of the Millennium Commission from the Government, which were given by the Minister to noble Lords during Committee and Report stages of the National Lottery Bill? The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said: The Bill affords the opportunity for the commission to be independent of government".—[Official Report, 8/7/93; col. 1543.] It seems that that is an opportunity denied.

Would not the Government be well advised to remember that the money provided for the Millennium Commission comes from many millions of people throughout the country having a small flutter in the hope of helping good causes and that it should not be used as a potential political slush fund to extend the patronage of the Conservative Party?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Holme, quite heard what I said. I did not say that he had written. I said that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage will be writing to Cabinet Ministers for their views on the short-list. Therefore, he was not quite accurate about that.

The knowledge and opinions of other Ministers will help my two right honourable friends on the commission when they consider each project on the short-list. All commissioners are welcome to consult other parties. But at the end of the day, it is for the nine members of the commission to decide which projects to support.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, do I understand from what the noble Baroness said that no letter has yet been written by the Secretary of State for National Heritage to Cabinet Ministers on this topic? Will she also assure the House that, if and when Cabinet Ministers are offered an opportunity to comment on the short-listed projects, a similar opportunity will be offered formally to the Opposition and to the relevant constituency Members of Parliament?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, a letter was sent to Cabinet colleagues with regard to consultation on applications to the Millennium Fund and not in relation to the short-list. There will be another letter concerning the short-list, which has not yet been sent.

The Opposition heritage spokesman has confirmed that Mr. Montague has discussed millennium matters with him, which is all that my right honourable friend has said. Mr. Montague is free to consult anybody he likes, as is any other member of the commission. My right honourable friend has not sent any information to Cabinet colleagues which is not already in the public domain.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, perhaps I may follow up that briefly. Is the noble Baroness aware that Mr. Montague has certainly not written formally to the entire Shadow Cabinet seeking its views on individual applications and that he has never discussed an individual bid with the Shadow Secretary of State for Heritage?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, first, Mr. Montague is not a member of the Shadow Cabinet. Secondly, he is at liberty to send any letter he likes. Let us not forget that this is only the second millennium. The first one occurred in the reign of Ethelred the Unready. The commission is doing its best to do better this time.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, if there is an independent commission, why on earth cannot it make up its own mind without political guidance on priorities?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, that is exactly what I have just said, and what it will do.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the House will be greatly reassured that the Members of the Cabinet correspond with one another in writing? That is most reassuring. Can we have an undertaking that the recipients of the communications have the time and the inclination to read the documents that are sent to them?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the situation is almost as pleasant as being on the good terms that I am on with the noble Lord who has just spoken.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the best projects for the Millennium Fund will be the major new stadium that is planned to be built in Manchester? It will be suitable to host the Commonwealth Games in the year 2002.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I do not believe that that is a matter for the Millennium Commission.