ANOTHER VIEW: Our unbiased millennial plans

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The Independent Online
There is, quite rightly, high interest in the extent to which the Millennium Commission is independent. There are nine commissioners. Two are Government ministers, one is nominated by the Leader of the Opposition - the role I fill. The other six are independent. There has naturally been much attention as to whether we really represent the punters - lottery ticket buyers and British people in general.

The leaking of a confidential letter from the chairman, Stephen Dorrell, to his Cabinet colleagues has raised the suspicion that we are being strongarmed by the Government. This has fuelled doubt about my position, following a suggestion that I discuss the affairs of the commission with the Labour Party. Naturally, I can't speak for Mr Dorrell, but I have never discussed an application with anyone other than the commissioners and our staff and have no intention of doing so. Nor do I believe or sense, from observing Mr Dorrell as chairman, that it is other than all the nine commissioners who take the decisions.

The commissioners come from varied backgrounds, from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our combined expertise includes law, industry, science, ethnic minorities, tourism, consumer affairs, football and heritage. Collectively, we know a great deal about our beautiful countryside, cities and culture which will be improved further by the funds that Parliament has decided the lottery will make available to us.

Do we all agree about everything at our meetings? Certainly not. We each have our own ideas - but equally, we each listen to the ideas of others. Are we swayed by Stephen Dorrell and Michael Heseltine because they represent the Government? Certainly not. They are bright enough to know that their expressing "Government" views might work against an outcome. I believe they give us the floor, with Mr Dorrell as chairman seeing his role as ensuring that we come to a conclusion.

From 550 applications we have had to identify 88 to go forward for final selection. The decisions will be taken on the outcome of the examinations now taking place between the commission's consultants and the applicants. There are various areas still to be decided, for which we are seeking general views: for example, a site for a special exhibition and a Millennium Award Scheme for individuals. I hope many of the Independent's readers will let us know their views.

Mr Dorrell is our second chairman - Peter Brooke, the previous Heritage Secretary, preceded him. For all we know we may have a further chairman before the summer is out.

I can assure the public that we are independent, that we are not being coerced and will not be pushed around by anybody.

The writer was formerly chairman of the English Tourist Board and the National Consumer Council.