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Millennium Dome

17. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): What his latest estimate is of the total building and running costs of the millennium dome. [141890]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson): The forecast total project costs set out in the New Millennium Experience Company's budget, placed in the Library on 2 October, is £798 million. Of that, the capital build costs are forecast at £505.7 million; the non-capital costs for the project to 31 December 2000--including national programme costs and London new year's eve 1999--are forecast at £265.6 million; and the closure costs are forecast at £30.3 million.

Mr. Robathan: From my memory of the original estimates of costs, that seems a pretty astonishing admission of inefficiency. Will the hon. Lady now address the question that she failed to address earlier? Given that her Department gave us the Bernie, can she explain how she thinks it appropriate that Mr. Robert Bourne, a well known donor to the Labour party, should be the only appropriate bidder for the dome after the end of this year?

Janet Anderson: I can only assume that the hon. Gentleman was not listening earlier; I repeat that Ministers took the decision to make Legacy the preferred bidder after receiving full and rigorous advice from the competition team, as well as from a wide range of other sources, including English Partnerships and the New Millennium Experience Company.

Public Libraries

18. Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon): If he will make a statement on his policy on the level of service that public libraries should provide to local communities. [141891]

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth): Public library authorities have a statutory duty to provide "a comprehensive and efficient" service across their areas. Early next year we intend to introduce national library standards so that library authorities and users understand better what that means in practice, and we shall monitor the performance of authorities through annual library plans.

Mr. Casale: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in deciding on the level of public library service locally, councillors should take account of the views of local residents, user groups and, where they exist, local library forums? Will he join me in encouraging the new leader of Merton council, Councillor Peter Holt, who is meeting the Merton library forum, to listen to the concerns expressed through that forum and to respond positively to them? Perhaps in that way, we can start to make up for

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the council's previous mistake whereby branch libraries were closed--including Wimbledon Park branch library in my constituency--to help pay for modernisation.

Mr. Howarth: I shall certainly give the encouragement sought by my hon. Friend. I hope that his constituents know how relentless he has been in putting pressure on me to ensure that Merton did not act improperly and unlawfully in that closure. He made absolutely sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I were fully aware of the impact on his constituents of the closure of Wimbledon Park library. I know of the importance he attached to keeping that library open.


The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked--

Female Bishops

30. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): What assessment he has made of the financial implications of ordaining female bishops. [141903]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): No such assessment has been made.

Mr. Swayne: If the existing rules, which allow a parish to opt out of the care of its own bishop, are revoked, and/or female bishops are consecrated, and if, as a consequence, incumbents feel that they cannot in conscience remain within the Church, will they be compensated?

Mr. Bell: In reply, I can only quote Dean Inge, who once said, "I have had a great many problems--most of which never happened". I doubt that the situation described by the hon. Gentleman will arise.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is for the Church of England and the General Synod to decide on theological grounds whether women should be ordained as bishops? If the Church of England so decides, it should be on those grounds, rather than on financial grounds, that women are ordained as bishops in the Church of England.

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Last July, the General Synod requested the help of bishops in initiating further theological study on women in the episcopacy, with a report-back in two years. The House of Bishops is setting up a working party, but its membership has not yet been settled.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a large number of members of the Church of England would warmly welcome the consecration of female bishops. Given the need for so many additional

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members of the priesthood, what assessment has he made of the cost of this House's not allowing the consecration of female bishops?

Mr. Bell: As I said in response to the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), no assessment has yet been made of the financial impact of the ordination of female bishops. When the General Synod advances along those lines, no doubt it will take the matter into account.

Religious Broadcasting

31. Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): What submission the Commissioners have made to the BBC with regard to their policy on religious broadcasting. [141904]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The hon. Gentleman may know that the Church of England's General Synod expressed its concern in February last year at the reduction and rescheduling of certain religious programmes, and that the Church is involved in work to monitor the output of the BBC and ITV in that respect.

Mr. Fabricant: I wonder how the synod feels about the recent abrupt resignation of Ernie Rea, who is the BBC's head of religious broadcasting, who said that BBC 2 did not appear to want traditional Christianity at all and that it just wanted "new-agey stuff". Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he will join the synod in saying that, in this new digital age of the BBC, we do not want a dumbed-down, happy-clappy, newey-agey, trendy-bendy BBC?

Mr. Bell: I remind the hon. Gentleman of what was said 2,000 years ago:

We should leave the BBC's internal organisation to the BBC. However, I fully support the General Synod's expression of concern. I understand that the BBC has given assurances that religious programmes form an important and valued part of the corporation's output.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I wrote to the BBC to raise that very issue, but the response that I received did not give me much confidence. Does my hon. Friend agree that broadcasting "Panorama" at the time at which it is shown on Sunday nights serves the purpose neither of current affairs documentaries nor of religious broadcasting?

Mr. Bell: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I understand that the Bishop of Wakefield is chairing a monitoring group that is working to devise the appropriate mechanism to monitor the range and nature of all religious programmes. The point that my hon. Friend makes will no doubt be taken fully into account.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Given the care with which the broadcasters must proceed when they govern party political broadcasting, and given the somewhat colourful row about the fact that the leader of the Conservative party

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appeared on "Songs of Praise" yesterday--the Prime Minister will appear on that programme in January, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) is waiting for his invitation--can we have a serious assurance that somebody is regulating the political content of religious broadcasting so that it does not become abused or disrespected and so that such programmes are treated, as they should be, as religious broadcasts rather than party political ones?

Mr. Bell: I am a little nonplussed by the hon. Gentleman's remarks. The Leader of the Opposition visited Middlesbrough football ground the other day. I am not entirely sure that that was a political appearance, although it was the same day as "Match of the Day" and the right hon. Gentleman appeared on television that evening. I think that in a religious democracy--if I may call it that--we should encourage our political leaders to take every opportunity to link themselves to our Christian faith, even if that involves appearing on television in such programmes as "Songs of Praise".

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