10 Jul 2000 : Column 605

House of Commons

Monday 10 July 2000

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Tate Modern

1. Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston): How many people have visited Tate Modern. [128195]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): At close of business on 7 July, Tate Modern had attracted 1,180,002 visitors.

Maria Eagle: Does my right hon. Friend agree that those numbers are a vindication of the Government's policy to encourage free entry to our great national collections? Does he also agree that that contrasts markedly with the policy of the Conservative party when in government? The previous Government encouraged museums and galleries to charge for entry amid plummeting visitor numbers.

Mr. Smith: I agree with my hon. Friend and I am delighted that, as a result of our decision to increase the funds available to the Tate galleries by £5 million this year and £6 million next year, Tate Modern has been able to open with free entry to visitors. That has been a crucial part of the new gallery's success.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Without pre-empting Question 2, does the Secretary of State believe that the success of Tate Modern is due to the fact that the British people prefer modern art to the contents of the dome, or that it is due to free entry? Getting into the dome is very expensive.

Mr. Smith: The hon. Gentleman should realise that well over 3 million people have already visited the dome and the majority of them have greatly enjoyed the experience. As to comparing the dome with Tate Modern, they are very different institutions.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne): Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of all of us who have pressed for free admission to museums and art galleries? Does he accept that his splendid work on ensuring that people realise the value of art, especially

10 Jul 2000 : Column 606

modern art, has been vindicated and that people have reacted favourably to the free admission policy that he has conscientiously pursued?

Mr. Smith: My right hon. Friend has also pursued the matter with great diligence and skill, and I am grateful for his support. We have guaranteed to all the museums that are currently free--that includes the Tate--that they can continue to be free to everyone. We have also ensured that, from April last year, all children have been able to visit for free the national museums that charge for entry, something which we inherited from the Conservative party. That has led to a 21 per cent. increase in the number of children visiting those museums. From April this year, those museums have been free to all pensioners.

Millennium Dome

2. Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): If he will make a statement on visitor numbers to the millennium dome. [128196]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson): The dome is already the United Kingdom's most successful paying visitor attraction, achieving more than 3 million visitors in its first six months. On that basis, the New Millennium Experience Company is well on its way to achieving its revised target of 6 million paying visitors by the end of the year.

Mr. Syms: Given that, in the face of all the evidence, Ministers are the only people who believe that the dome is a success, when will the £139 million that the Millennium Commission loaned to the project be repaid? Will it be repaid?

Janet Anderson: Let me put on record the conditions that cover the grant. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows them only too well. The Millennium Commission met on 22 May and approved an additional grant of £29 million, subject to stringent conditions, to cover cash flow, and £3 million specifically for marketing purposes. The conditions are that NMEC's management governance should be strengthened and restructured; that there should be a revised business plan that shows substantial additional cost savings and enhanced marketing plans; and that an enhanced financial team at NMEC should be joined by a dedicated member of the Millennium Commission's financial staff.

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham): Will my hon. Friend comment on the cost of clearing the site for the millennium dome? It is a site of substantial inner-city development, which had lain derelict because of contamination--a significant factor in the cost of the millennium experience from which Conservative Members try to make capital. Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that unemployment in my constituency for the long-term unemployed is down by almost 50 per cent., and by more than 70 per cent. for the young unemployed. Much of that is attributable to the success of the millennium exhibition at Greenwich as a regeneration project.

Janet Anderson: My hon. Friend is right. The significant investment has done a great deal to regenerate areas in and around his constituency. I am sure that hon. Members of all parties welcome that.

10 Jul 2000 : Column 607

I was concerned to read reports in the press at the weekend of comments by Mr. Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, who claims:

I am sure that none of those people are Labour Members; I hope that they are not Conservative Members.

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): The target for the number of visitors to the dome has not been achieved. What steps is the Minister taking in terms of the two short-listed companies to ensure that the dome's new incarnation is a success? Will she ensure that there is public consultation other than the token consultation that has taken place so far? It is important that the dome is more of a success than it has been so far. To achieve that, the public's views must be clearly established. We must also ensure that the dome's future use is not determined by some grubby attempt to get a cash flow for the last few months of the year to keep the dome limping on to 31 December.

Janet Anderson: The hon. Gentleman knows only too well that the revised business plan of the New Millennium Experience Company is based on the revised projection of 6 million visitors. The dome is well on the way to achieving that number and, in fact, is already the most successful tourist attraction in the country.

On the second point, the hon. Gentleman knows that there are two preferred bidders. There has been consultation on the matter. It is important that a decision is made as quickly as possible so that the dome's future can be assured. However, there is, of course, a major difference between our proposals for the dome and those of the previous Conservative Government: they were going to pull it down; we shall ensure that there is a legacy for UK plc.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): Is my hon. Friend aware that I went with my four children--one of them in a school swing band--to the dome the other Saturday? For £57, we had eight hours of information and education, had a lot of fun and saw a great "Blackadder" film. It cost 57 quid to keep kids occupied for eight hours, which is a very good deal for a Saturday in London. Is she also aware that Rotherham and hundreds of other towns and cities have got a day in the dome--kids are really looking forward to it--but they are fed up with the whingeing, whiny, wallies, the anti-dome dumping drongos in the Conservative party who always want to destroy a good day out for the children of this country?

Janet Anderson: The short answer to my hon. Friend's question is yes. May I take this opportunity to underline the dome's popularity as a visitor attraction? It has achieved an extraordinary 85 per cent. satisfaction rating, with an exceptional 90 per cent. satisfaction rating for host staff.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): Will the Minister confirm that, whoever wins the competition to rescue the dome from the Government, insufficient visitor numbers will ensure that a large amount of the money originally

10 Jul 2000 : Column 608

earmarked for regeneration will be sunk into paying off the dome's debts? Is not that a pathetic waste of resources? Instead of resorting to the usual bombast about the dome being a great success, which no one believes, why does not she apologise for the whole miserable affair?

Janet Anderson: There is no need to apologise for something that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) said, has done so much to regenerate a previously disused part of Greenwich and south-east London. The hon. Gentleman refers to reports in the press this morning, so I shall refer him to a press notice that the Millennium Commission issued in response, which puts the record straight. The only percentage of the proceeds that has been decided so far is the 7.5 per cent. that has to go to British Gas. The press notice states:

not least because in that way

Mr. Ainsworth: If the Minister will not apologise, I shall make a suggestion that may help to boost the visitor numbers. P-Y says that he has been misled by the Government and that Ministers are not doing enough to help, so why does not she get down there and set up a new competition? They could ask one question: "What do the following have in common: the debt-riddled dome, the closed Millennium bridge, the U-turn on universal free access to museums, the fiasco over Wembley and the failure to win the world cup bid?" The answer is that they all fall under the responsibility of the Secretary of State. Visitors to the dome could then vote on who has had the more miserable year so far--the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State.

Janet Anderson: The hon. Gentleman could do with a new scriptwriter. Given that he is talking about what unites people, the only thing that unites Conservative Members is Mr. Gerbeau's suggestion that, on a private basis, Conservative politicians visit the dome and say they have a wonderful day, but the next morning they appear on television and say that it is ridiculous and a disgrace. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Next Section

IndexHome Page