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Viscount Falkland: My Lords, we on these Benches have had uncharacteristically lengthy discussions on these two statutory instruments. I congratulate the Minister on his clear description of what the orders entail. As to the first one, the purpose of which has now been explained by the Minister, I and my noble friends did not gain much assistance from the Explanatory Note. It is not good enough simply to provide an existing lump of legislation with hardly any further enlightenment. If that is the trend, one almost reaches the stage where one requires an explanatory note of an explanatory note. Having said that, the matter is now extremely clear.

The amendment moved by the noble Baroness is unexpectedly helpful. We should perhaps be grateful to the noble Baroness who may well have inspired the very clear explanation of the Minister. The prolongation of the existence of the Millennium Commission was foreseen in the original legislation put in place by the previous government. However, they never contemplated today's rather sombre situation as regards the Dome. Enough has been said about that, and we do not want to join in any rancorous discussion about apportionment of responsibility for the present situation.

We on these Benches completely understand the reason for the date given by the Secretary of State. The original legislation provided for a period of six months rather than a year. Presumably, the reason for it, which has been reinforced by the Minister, is that, apart from the list of good causes described by the noble Lord--incidentally, we entirely support it--money is required purely to decommission the Dome. Can the Minister tell the House at what stage noble Lords will be given further information about the exact amount required for decommissioning? At the moment that matter is left rather open. The Minister's key remark, which we completely understand and accept, is that the money is only for non-Dome-related activity beyond what is required for decommissioning.

I understand from the observations of the noble Baroness that she is unlikely to press her amendment to a Division. However, if the noble Baroness did so, in the light of her remarks we on this side of the House would not follow her into the Lobbies. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness has been instrumental in throwing further light on the situation. The position is now much clearer than it was the day before yesterday when I and my colleagues discussed these matters which we did not then fully understand.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, I rise briefly to observe that the same facts can appear to be different to different observers. The noble Baroness described her time in Bristol in the 1960s. During that time I was president of Bristol Borough Labour Party and, therefore, took some responsibility for the policy of the council. The noble Baroness described the centre as

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having been regenerated. It is true that the centre is now an absolute delight to the middle and chattering classes of Bristol. However, the previous centre, which included some very good public lavatories and flowerbeds, was perfectly adequate. Public lavatories are always anathema to the middle classes because they do not like people stopping and slamming car doors. All of that has gone.

The only common denominator that remains is the statue of Burke. When I was a small boy I could not understand why Burke had been so famous when, looking at his statue, he had been the Member of Parliament for Bristol for only four years. It was only later I discovered that he had gone to Bristol from a pocket borough. Having represented the constituency for four years, he found the electorate rather tiresome. His main opponent, Kruger, refused a fat bribe to withdraw from the contest and Burke went off to another pocket borough. Burke is now hailed as the very acme of democracy and representation of the people and his statue remains in Bristol.

This matter is not of great interest to many Members of the House. However, if the noble Baroness visits some of the haunts of the working classes in Bristol she will find a very different view about the regeneration of which she is so proud.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Anelay, I am as anxious as anyone to see that money goes to the New Opportunities Fund and other good causes. My reason for rising this afternoon is to ask for responses to a number of questions. Some of those questions have been put before but not answered and there are one or two new queries. Those matters should be dealt with before we pass this order. We must have those answers because, as the Minister said in moving the Motion, a hole will appear in the budget if funding is not provided. I am worried about what happens if the current estimates of cost and future income for the Dome prove to be substantially wrong. Who then provides the funding, or is there a possibility that in that situation the Government will be forced to return to the House to ask for a further extension? If there is a potential hole we need to be absolutely confident about the numbers that we are talking about.

In the debate on 29th November the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, told the House that the Dome needed about 4.6 million visitors, but he did not answer the question about the number of paying visits. The latest forecast by the New Millennium Experience Company is that it expects 4.6 million revenue-generating visitors by the year end. Is that number about right?

I turn to the present forecast cost. I was astonished by an Answer given in another place on Monday by Janet Anderson. She told the House that the total forecast project cost, based on the budget placed in the Library on 2nd October, was #798 million, including closure costs of #30.3 million. My astonishment arises from the fact that when I went to the Library of this House the budget of the New Millennium Experience Company that had been placed in it on 2nd October

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related to September. I understand that a subsequent budget forecast by NMEC for October dated 25th November had been placed in the Library. I am extremely puzzled as to why a Minister answering a Question in the other place in mid-December should refer Members to information that was already a month out of date. The matter is of some significance, because in the interval the estimated cost had risen from #798 million to #801.6 million.

Sums of money of between #3 million and #4 million may not be very significant, and there appears to have been some casualness about such expenditures in the past. But it is a little worrying that in a short space of time the budget has increased in this way and the Government have made statements to the public about forecasts that are already out of date. Therefore, I should like to know what the latest forecast cost is and whether the Government are confident about it.

The total #30.3 million decommissioning costs--I should say Xdecommissioning and closure" costs because there are two separate items which have to be taken together and some numbers have gone up and some have gone down--are #10 million higher than the August estimate. We should be a little concerned about the closure and decommissioning costs because if the estimates prove wrong we could be in some difficulty when the order comes to an end.

One reason why the decommissioning and closure costs may prove inadequate could be a collapse of the present negotiations with Legacy plc. So I should like to know whether the Government are absolutely confident that the present assessment of decommissioning and closure costs are accurate and adequate. Of course, there will be a real problem if the Legacy deal collapses because it is quite clear from the National Audit Office report that the cost of demolishing the Dome would increase those estimates substantially.

4 p.m.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am slightly puzzled as to why he thinks there may be a problem. The whole history of the Dome, which I regard as an outrage, has been a simple one: when one runs out of money, one votes some more. What will happen if it runs out of money--the collapse of the new purchaser or for whatever reason--is that they will vote more. With all the history to date, Parliament will vote it more money.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, it is precisely because I have the same fear in mind that I am making the speech that I am. The Minister in introducing the debate gave us an assurance--or I thought he gave us an assurance--that this was to be the end of the matter. He was not going to come back for more. I suspect that in order to persuade my noble friend not to press the Motion in the debate he is likely to repeat that undertaking. I am expressing some scepticism about the reliability of the numbers we are being given and want further assurance upon the matter.

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The third point concerns the prospective sale to Legacy plc. I am aware that if I ask any questions I shall be told that the matter is commercially confidential, it is subject to negotiations and they might break down, although the noble and learned Lord, when he made his statement at the end of July about the previous prospective sale to Nomura, posed few doubts about it. However, he made one statement about that Nomura sale which is relevant. He said that there would be an early payment of #105 million with #53 million going to the NMEC.

In the debate we had on 29th November I asked a specific question. I asked if there was to be an early payment by Legacy plc, and, if so, when. I did not get an answer to that question. I should like an answer to that question today. I particularly want an answer to that question in the light of another extraordinary reply given by the Minister in another place on Monday. I find the words that she used not only extraordinary but rather worrying. She was answering a question about the value of the sale. We have been told in The Times, not by the Government, that the total value of the sale is #125 million, which is #25 million less than the consortium offered previously when they were in competition with Nomura. I do not know whether that is right or not because the Government have not put a final figure on the matter. The Minister in another place said:

    XThe details of the sale are commercially confidential, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that #50 million will be paid on completion, and that the value of the total offer has been assessed to be more than #100 million".--[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/00; col.336.]

I repeat that,

    Xthe value of the total offer has been assessed to be more than #100 million".

Instead of an advance payment of #105 million, we shall now have a payment on completion of #50 million and a total deal assessed to be more than #100 million. What on earth do those words mean? My suspicions were roused. It seems rather unlikely that they mean there will be a cash payment. If there is not going to be a cash payment, I wonder what exactly will go back to the Millennium Commission. Incidentally, what impact will that have on the interest charges which have already added a considerable sum to the original total of #179 million which was going to be raised in order to cover the additional grants given during this year to the New Millennium Experience Company?

I have an awful suspicion that we shall see some creative accounting; that we shall be told that the future earnings can be discounted back and valued in some way. I may be entirely wrong. It may be that the answer given by the Minister in another place was off-the-cuff and she was inadequately briefed, and it will be a cash payment; there will be an early receipt; and we shall get an early payment back to help fill the hole to which the noble Lord referred in opening.

I believe that before we pass the order we should have answers to those questions. We should have answers about the latest estimate of paying visitors, not the inflated totals of those who are invited in for

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jollies. We should have some clarification of the two budgets, to which I refer, of total costs. I would prefer to have details of the latest budget rather than the one offered to the other place by the Minister. I should like clear answers to the questions that I have asked about the sale to Legacy plc, the date of an early payment and whether it will be real money or some product of creative accounting.

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