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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I have had the honour and experience of serving on a regional millennium committee. Therefore, it is not in my own interests to be too critical of the order and that which went before. In my view the moneys were well spent, not just in my region but in others. Naturally, we could not satisfy all the applicants, but then we assumed, rather cynically, that the bids had been somewhat inflated in the first place and that applications were made for rather more money than they expected to receive.
I have one question to put to the Minister: will there remain a restriction on capital projects, which capital expenditure guidelines we rigidly observed in our committee? We had the inevitable borderline cases and sometimes it was extremely difficult to draw a dividing line. It would be helpful to have clarification regarding, what one might call, the Xnew money" which is to be available in the months remaining. Apart from that query about the grants for capital expenditure, I have no great reluctance in supporting the order.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, when we last debated the matter a couple of weeks ago, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, recited at length the numbers of parliamentary Questions, debates and other exchanges which had taken place on the matter. It is therefore the case, I fear, that those of us who have taken an interest in these things may be running the risk of becoming a bit boring on the subject. If I am about to fall foul of that sin, I apologise in advance to noble Lords.
I shall confine my remarks to one question. It is clear--is it not?--that back in July of this year things really began to get very bad for the New Millennium Experience Company. The suggestion has been made by those more expert in these matters than I that perhaps the New Millennium Experience Company was trading at that time while insolvent, a time when the noble and learned Lord was a shareholder--the only shareholder--in the company. He was not a director, but he was the shareholder. It would be a serious matter if the company was trading while insolvent, although I recognise at once that the law in these matters is far from straightforward and that no doubt the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues took the best possible advice.
However, there has been a suggestion that at that moment the Government somehow gave assurances of one kind or another, be they formal or informal, to the New Millennium Experience Company that it would be provided with the necessary funds if things went badly wrong or if the Millennium Commission,
Is it or is it not the case that certain assurances were given by the Government to the New Millennium Experience Company at about that time which would have covered the position if the Millennium Commission had not in the event advanced the additional funds that were required? As I said, up to now Ministers have been very cagey about that. I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, comes to reply we can have a clear and plain description of the position.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I shall not repeat all the questions that have been asked by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. My noble friend referred to a later budget of income and expenditure, which I have not seen, that has been placed in the Library. Perhaps I may move on to an estimate of the assets and liabilities--for those who have not been trained as accountants, that is not the same as an income and expenditure statement--which we were told in the NAO report was expected to be produced by the end of November. That estimate of assets and liabilities should show NMEC's assets, what they are worth and what liabilities have accumulated and are expected to be paid out. We could then see the net financial position on an estimated basis. That was supposed to be done by the end of November. I should like to know when that estimate can be made available to us.
An important part of the overall financial position will be the financial deal that is done with Legacy. When will we be given a full estimate--not the words that were given in another place--of the straightforward cash-flow from the Legacy deal? We need that information to work out what the final financial position will be.
When the Minister explained the financial impact on the Millennium Commission, he in effect assumed that nothing would be received by the Millennium Commission in respect of the Legacy deal. Will he confirm that the working assumption now is that whatever moneys come--if any do come in cash form--there will be nothing surplus to be repaid to the commission, which was always the intention when the early grants were made? I should be grateful for the noble Lord's views on that point.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I shall declare a series of interests. I have been a Millennium Commissioner since the inception of the commission in February 1994. I have been co-chairman of the finance committee for most of that time and chairman of the internal audit committee for the whole of that time.
I rise to speak principally as an individual who has given seven years of his life to the Millennium Commission. The work that we have done has been tremendously exciting and rewarding, but there has also been a large amount of frustration and disappointment in a number of areas, the performance of the NMEC being one of them. However, it is worth putting on record that as long ago as 1995 or thereabouts, when we conceived and then gave birth to what later became known as the NMEC and talked about visitor figures of 10 million to 12 million, we realised that 12 million was certainly in the top echelons of possibility and that there was considerable risk. As an aside, it looks as though the Tate Modern will have 1 million visitors a month. That puts the matter in perspective. The information we had at that time from other events made the 12 million visitor figure plausible.
However, at that stage we had no idea of the content. We had a dream. Following the Great Exhibition of 1856 and the Festival of Britain, which were both great successes, we believed that the kingdom was ready to put on another exhibition. I believe that it was. Unfortunately, the general election got in the way. I do not say that from a political point of view. But the management team lost several months of clear decision-making while it had to hold back waiting to see what would happen in the election and whether a Labour Government would agree to take on the exhibition. That definitely was a shame. Those points are not generally known.
It is also worth making the point--a good many political points have been made and I have taken no part in them--that at the time of the election and soon after it there were negotiations between the present Prime Minister and my right honourable friend Michael Heseltine and others about what would happen to the NMEC. We were delighted when the Labour Party agreed that it would take the NMEC on. It did so on condition that it had three months to carry out an in-depth investigation into the finances of the whole process, which one assumes it duly did. I have recently ascertained this figure. Had the Labour Party chosen to kill the project there and then, it would have cost #25 million. I was given that figure today.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he not think--I say this, admittedly, with the benefit of hindsight but the noble Lord was there at the time--that that would have been a fantastic bargain?
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, with the benefit of hindsight, I do not believe that it would have been a fantastic bargain. In money terms, one might say that, but I still believe that there will be legacy in terms of what has been achieved on the Greenwich peninsula, with all the inward investment that has been made and the infrastructure that will be there in 20 years' time. The whole regeneration of that part of London was what I stuck my hat on.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He referred to the legacy of the improvement of the Greenwich peninsula and cited that, in responding to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, as being the value of the project. That is well so. I can understand the Government and, in particular, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, saying that. However, I do not recall, from the rationale given to the public or to Members of this House, that public support for this venture rested on the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula, admirable though that aspect has been. Rather, it was sold to the country as a national exhibition, entertainment and celebration which, unfortunately, has gone wrong.
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