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House of Lords

Thursday, 26th October 2000.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by Lord Bishop of Lincoln): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, before business begins, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I am to make an official visit to Newcastle upon Tyne to take part in the Magistrates' Association dinner and to address its annual general meeting and conference tomorrow, Friday 27th October, when the House will sit. Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence.

Millennium Dome: Sale

3.1 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress they have made with their plans to sell the site of the Millennium Dome.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the Government are currently in discussion with Legacy plc in relation to Legacy's proposal for a high technology business campus at the Greenwich site. The Legacy proposal is currently being analysed by the competition team in advance of any decision on preferred bidder status. We hope to make an announcement in due course, but I can assure the noble Lord that the Government are determined to get the best deal for the regeneration of east London.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He referred to the "best deal". In that connection, what action has he taken in response to the information supplied by the chairman of the Dome Company, David James, to the effect that the best way of offsetting the Dome's enormous losses and of maximising the value for that site would be to pull down the Dome and thereby to achieve three times the amount of money from its sale as the Government will achieve by making a bargain basement deal with Bourne Legacy?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness for calling her a noble Lord! No such information has been provided to me by the chairman of the Dome Company. Before any deal is done, all options will be considered to ensure that it is the best value for money.

Lord Acton: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that this morning's Independent reported

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a record number of 38,300 visitors to the Dome on Monday; 35,000 on Tuesday, a similar number yesterday and no doubt even more today? Can he give a current estimate of the number of visitors for the entire year?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the current budget, copies of which are available in the House today, is based on 4.5 million revenue-generating visitors. I saw the article in the Independent. It is accurate, but I have been in this job for long enough not to make any claims in relation to it.

Lord Elton: My Lords, presumably in closing the operation, the intention is to minimise loss. Did the Minister learn with surprise--perhaps he did not and I am misinformed--that the whole facility of the Dome is to be made available free of charge on its last day?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, after the Dome closes on its last day, 31st December, there will be a party arranged by the Ministry of Sound. The facility will be free to that organisation, but catering arrangements will be made. That is the best value for money use on 31st December.

Lord Peston: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that some of us regard the building as a marvellous piece of architecture? It would be an act of sacrilege to pull down such an excellent building. In this case, money is not the only criterion which might be applied to the problem. Is there a statutory obligation to sell the Dome? Would not the best value way forward be to keep the Dome in the public sector and use it for one of the many purposes which many of us have been advocating for some time, including as an indoor sports arena?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, there is no statutory obligation to sell the Dome. However, the Government have stated that they wish to try to find a buyer for it. That is what we are doing. I agree with my noble friend that the building is impressive. There are different views on that, but many people would agree with my noble friend.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, there are a large number of derelict acres of land around the Dome, which I fly over every week. Can the Minister tell the House whether the whole acreage of derelict land around the Dome is for sale; if not, how much is for sale and what percentage is unpolluted?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the north Greenwich peninsula on which the Dome stands was decontaminated to a level which matched the then plans for that peninsula. Much, although not all, of the north Greenwich peninsular is owned by English Partnerships. The part on which the Dome stands is subject to a lease from the company which owns the Dome. It is for English Partnerships to decide what it

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wishes to do with that land not covered by the lease. It has bought the land with a view to regenerating that part of London.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, I refer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I wonder whether the Minister is slightly confused. Is he saying that the objective for the conclusion of this exercise is that the taxpayer shall get best value for money, or is it still open that something may be done which is not best value for money, such as preserving this memorial to disaster?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I hope that I was not confused about the position, which the Government made clear about a year ago. A competition was set up with a view to selling the Dome. There were two shortlisted bidders: Nomura, which dropped out, and Legacy plc, with which we are currently having discussions. The competition involved preserving the Dome. The buyers take the Dome subject to obligations to preserve it. Value for money and appropriate use were among the factors to be taken into account in determining who would succeed in the competition. Both preserving and selling the Dome are met by the terms of the competition.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, did the Minister take any comfort from a press report that the German Government have lost even more money on a piece of foolishness?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, happily, my responsibilities are for the Dome, not for any German millennium projects.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, is the Minister aware that those who work in the Dome and the surrounding area followed closely the discussions in this House on the Dome and in particular on its future? Will my noble friend continue to bear them in mind when any future discussions take place on the Dome?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Yes, my Lords; I shall. I am grateful for the opportunity to say that whoever else was to blame, the staff who have worked in the Dome have played no part in that story. Indeed, they have contributed massively to the enjoyment experienced by many visitors to the Dome.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that the building is a fine piece of architecture. However, when the building was planned and designed, was not the original intention that it would not be required to remain in existence for more than one or two years? If the Minister is attempting now to find some further use for the building in years to come, does not the point made by my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour bear much further and more serious consideration by the

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Minister; that is, that the future existence of the whole venture should be integrated with the surrounding development and infrastructure?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that when the Dome was originally built, it was envisaged that it would be a temporary structure, but the Government decided that they would have a competition to dispose of it on a permanent basis. I entirely agree with the comments of the noble Lord. As I hope that I made clear in the Answer, the regeneration of east London and north Greenwich must play a crucial part in decisions about what happens to the Dome. That was one of the vital factors in deciding the winner of the competition.

European Union: Political Integration

3.9 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy towards closer political integration in the European Union.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in his widely publicised speech on 6th October in Warsaw,

    "We want to be a part of a larger, stronger democratic Europe. A Europe of free, independent sovereign nations who choose to pool that sovereignty in pursuit of their own interests and the common good, achieving more together than we can achieve alone".

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. But why have the British people become slowly more hostile to the euro and the European Union under this Government?

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