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House of Lords

Tuesday, 17th February 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Millennium Dome

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the progress made with their plans for the Millennium Dome.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government are pleased with the New Millennium Experience Company's progress with the Millennium Dome. The construction of the dome is, if anything, ahead of schedule and real progress has been made on the content, some of which will be made public next week.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will pause in his assumed enthusiasm and have in mind that many people are profoundly shocked at this kind of money, from whatever source, being spent on a project of this kind at a time when many projects in the arts, health and education are short of funds; and at the thought of spending it in a place of quite unusual poverty and distress. Will the noble Lord convey to the Government that many people are profoundly shocked by this sortie and wonder what on earth the response has been from the 40 or so religious bodies, which I understand have been consulted, and also whether almost the only inspiration is drawn from Disneyland?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I shall treat the noble Lord's first two questions entirely with the seriousness that they deserve. Of course I am aware that there are many different views about the Millennium Dome and whether it is a worthwhile project. As to that, perhaps only time will tell. The noble Lord refers to large sums of money. I remind him that this is not public money in the normal sense; £399 million of the money is to come from lottery funding and the rest from sponsorship and ticket sales. The noble Lord rightly refers to the poverty in the area, but he will recall that at least 2,500 jobs will be created in the construction of the dome and 5,000 jobs will be available--a considerable number will be taken by local people--when the dome is open to the public.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that many Londoners may also feel that the money could have been better invested in London transport, particularly the Underground system? Is he confident that the Jubilee Line will be finished on time? If it is not, how will people get to the Millennium Dome?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government have been assured by London Underground

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Limited that the Jubilee Line will be open well in advance of the dome for through running from Stanmore to Stratford at 21 trains an hour, which is certainly adequate for the purposes of the dome. As I say, that will occur well in advance of the opening of the dome.

Lord Montague of Oxford: My Lords, in view of unemployment of 12.5 per cent. in Greenwich and 18.5 per cent. in Tower Hamlets, and with the £450 million from the Millennium Commission, does my noble friend agree that my late colleague and fellow commissioner of the Millennium Commission was right to agree to chair the Cabinet committee set up by John Major to ensure the progress of this project; and that he was also right to ensure that residential and commercial developments would take place on the site, the details of which are likely to be announced later this week?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I join with my noble friend in paying tribute to the work of Mr. Michael Heseltine in the early stages of this project, which emphasises the point that this is not a party political issue. I also pay tribute to Mr. Heseltine's vision for the east London corridor to which the work in the dome and--as my noble friend rightly says--around the dome will be a significant contribution.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, can the Minister tell us how well advanced is the funding of the Millennium Dome?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have already referred to the biggest single item of funding which is of course the funding from lottery sources. That of course includes provision for inflation and contingency. Further progress on sponsorship will not be possible until we are able to make public more of the content of the dome which, as I told the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, will happen next week. Of course ticket sales will be recouped only when the dome is open.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, can my noble friend say what proportion of the money was spent on decontaminating the site? Is that not money which would have to be spent whatever use was made of the site? Will that not be of benefit in the future?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is right to say that the decontamination of the site is an important contribution not only for the period of the opening of the dome but for the future. I do not have an exact figure; no doubt I should. But I shall write to my noble friend. However, it is a substantial long-term investment for a site which a year ago had been contaminated for 150 years.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether there is any truth in the story that the dome is to have an enormous figure of a woman and a child which could easily be interpreted as a vulgar cartoon of the Incarnation?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is indeed the fact that there will be an enormous figure.

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Mr. Heseltine and I saw a maquette of the figure last year. I do not think that by any stretch of the imagination it could be described as a vulgar figure. It is more androgynous and to me reminiscent of Egyptian statues.

Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but the House may agree with me that, in answer to the charges by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, of gross over-expenditure, the noble Lord gave the impression that the fact that a large amount of expenditure will come from the lottery in some way mitigates the offence of over-expenditure. Am I wrong in understanding that?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, part of the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, explained where the money is to come from. Of course there will always be disagreement about priorities for expenditure of this kind. I respect the views of those who take a different view from that of Government.

Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble Lord has managed to give all these answers without reference to the occasion which the erection will commemorate. Can he please assure us, in better terms than he did the last time I asked him, that the dome, and what goes on in it, will commemorate the birth of the saviour of the world?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I can certainly confirm that that is a significant element in the dome, although of course it has to be available to those of all faiths. In support of that, I should tell the noble Lord that the Minister without Portfolio will again meet the Lambeth Group next Monday. That shows the seriousness with which he takes the point that the noble Lord makes.

Nursing Staff: Pay

2.45 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether in the light of the review of nurses' pay a generous and realistic provision will be made.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the Prime Minister announced on 29th January that the Government had accepted in full the pay increases recommended by the Review Body for Nursing Staff. Pay scales for nursing staff will rise by 2 per cent. from 1st April and by 3.8 per cent. from 1st December. Unlike recent years, nurses will receive a proper national pay award rather than facing the lottery of local pay bargaining. This is the highest pay award to nurses in the past six years.

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In addition, the Government accept in principle the review body's recommendation on discretionary points for some senior nurses and we shall be taking this forward in the context of wider discussions about the NHS pay system.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Are the Government aware that the Royal College of Nursing takes the view that this staged award of 2.6 per cent. is wholly inadequate to deal with the nursing shortage? Are the Government also aware that in this crisis situation the Royal College of Nursing seeks the setting up of a strong independent review body for pay and the establishment of an improved career structure for all nurses? What will the Government do about it?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I of course accept that the Royal College of Nursing has made the points described about the pay award. But, as the noble Lord said, it is rightly concerned about the career structure and opportunities for the professions. We are addressing that. An extra 1,300 new training places are being made available for nurse education and training this year. We have put aside £2.15 million to promote publicity about the new training places. In the context of the NHS White Paper, we are also allowing for a more positive role for nurses in the higher reaches of NHS management. Together with the Royal College of Nursing and other professional bodies, we are working on a widespread strategy to ensure that the serious matter of nursing staff shortages is addressed.

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