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I do not often make such statements, but I think that Lord Falconer should go--not because he is responsible for everything that has gone wrong at the dome, which he is not, but because someone has to be seen by the public to be taking responsibility for the situation and to accept that both the previous Government and the current Government got it wrong. Lord Falconer happens to be in post at the moment.
Mr. McCabe: Does the hon. Gentleman think that it is appropriate that the person who has what may be called the misfortune to be the incumbent should take all the responsibility, whereas, as the hon. Gentleman's own speech makes clear, the origins of the problem go back much further?
The public feel cheated and believe that huge sums have been wasted. In those circumstances, the Government have to take responsibility, as does the Minister who is currently responsible for the dome. He is in post. When the music stops, the person left standing has to go. In this case, that is Lord Falconer.
My dictionary defines a dome as a "self-supporting structure", but that is far from true in this case. Indeed, the "millennium tent" in Private Eye is probably a more appropriate description of the dome. Nevertheless, I admire the building, although its content requires huge sums.
What about the future? Legacy is in negotiations with the Government, although it is not the Government's first choice. Dome Europa is long gone, and we are now dealing with the Government's second choice and plan B, which puts Legacy in a very strong position to lay down the terms that it wants and to threaten to walk away if it does not get them. One Sunday newspaper described that as the "dark dome" scenario in which the dome sits empty because no one can take it over and it is too embarrassing to demolish it--although that has not been ruled out in this debate. It would be an unfortunate end to that building and to this episode of British politics.
Today, we need a statement from the Minister telling us where we are with the Legacy negotiations. Is it true that Legacy has laid down terms to which the Government have to agree by Friday? Will the Minister undertake to come to the House to make that statement, so that hon. Members do not have to hear about it on the "Today" programme? Are not the Government over a barrel in negotiations with Legacy?
Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. The dome has been a target since its inception and that criticism has intensified. It is always easy to denigrate and to write knocking copy, and there has been something of a bandwagon in dome criticism--which must surely be the most ironic and hypocritical attack coming from Conservative Members, who initially established the project. These days, Conservative Members are taking a swipe at the dome although they were the ones who laid its foundations. That is no more than blind opportunism of the kind that might have been expected. If the dome's future is a great one, the Conservatives will undoubtedly rediscover its Tory roots and reclaim it as their own. It is true that we said that the dome would be the first paragraph of our general election manifesto, but one thing is for sure: it is the last word in Tory hypocrisy.
Let us be quite clear about it at the outset: as we have already heard, the dome is the most popular paying attraction in the United Kingdom. Although one would never know it from the opprobrium that has been heaped on it, particularly by the media, the dome is not the least popular attraction in the United Kingdom.
It says something about the remaining vestiges of snobbery and elitism in the United Kingdom that the Royal Opera house in Covent Garden can receive large cash injections to be renovated and promoted, whereas the dome, in east London, is regarded as the embarrassing lowly cousin. As I have said on many occasions, over the past few years, businesses, institutions and companies have been moving eastwards in London. The centre of metropolitan gravity has been pulling in the direction of that part of London--an area which has, historically, suffered deprivation and poverty, of which it still has more than its share. New opportunities have opened up with the regeneration of east London, and we are now beginning to see how local communities can benefit from positive changes in the area's economic and social environment. No longer is it the case that people are excluded; they are getting the jobs now. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) in respect of the Thames gateway.
The dome has been part of that change. Far from being a folly, it has regenerated an area that was previously derelict and a rather sad spectacle--and thousands of jobs have been created. These days, when I look across the strip of the Thames between my constituency and the dome across the water, the view is spectacular--a real credit to the area and no longer the wasteland of pre-dome days.
Once the decision had been made to create the dome, the local environment began to improve dramatically. The site was decontaminated, and plans for vastly improved transport connections were drawn up. The idea that the Greenwich peninsula could have a new, vibrant life had its doubters. Given its location and the condition of the site, its regeneration was always going to be a massive undertaking--especially given the relatively short time in which the work had to be completed for the millennium eve celebrations.
Mr. Sheerman: Will my hon. Friend confirm that the site was the greatest area of contaminated land in the south of England and that it was a massive--and massively expensive--job to clear up the contamination?
Mr. Fitzpatrick: The right hon. Member for Henley said that he recognised the mistake that he had made by not including the area in the London docklands development area when he designated it 15 years earlier.
The efforts of all those committed to the project deserve a congratulatory mention. The dome remains an amazing achievement in terms both of size and of quality of construction. We often hear talk of how much this country needs to promote the value of engineering. Here we have a triumph of engineering that some people do nothing to salute. It is time that those people recognised the significance of the achievement, instead of diminishing it. Thousands worked on its construction; thousands more, of course, have been employed to service this huge visitor attraction.
Forgetting the critics for a moment--if only we could--local people and local businesses were generally quite positive about the project and its ability to revolutionise the profile of the area. Once again, that is something that is not often trumpeted. The dome symbolised the way in which so much potential could burgeon into something impressive and of benefit to the whole region and to the United Kingdom. Why should it not symbolise that potential in the future? It is a stunning building. It is hard not to be impressed with it when you see it. It is a feat of architectural splendour to be proud of.
The dome is unique, and has won the MacRobert award, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said. Visitors like it; 88 per cent. of the 4.8 million interviewed said that they enjoyed the experience, and 94 per cent. that they enjoyed the spectacular show. But the dome is more than a day out enjoyed by its visitors--pleasing though that may be. It is also about participation, and I would like to say a few words about that important part of the dome's work.
McDonald's has been involved with the dome from the early days, and one way in which it has interacted with the dome is in the McDonald's "our town story" programme. "Our town story" involves the whole of the UK in the year 2000. Local education authorities across the UK are participating in the programme, and each produces a show at the dome involving up to 100 young people from local schools. These shows dip into the history and present-day life of their region, town or village. They also take a look at what the future may hold for their home town. The shows are inclusive, and children of varying abilities and experiences get involved. My latest experience, Newham's "our town story" day at
In Canning Town, the regeneration partnership ran a painting competition not long ago for school students with the theme "What's good about Canning Town?" Of the 50 shortlisted finalists, every one showed Canary wharf, the dome and London City airport. None of them are actually in Canning Town, but all of them can be seen from Canning Town. If the new exhibition and conference centre, Excel, had been built then, I know that it would have been featured. Those visual images of the dome showed that the structure was and is part of our landscape in east London. These young people, aged from five to 18, were saying, "This is our town. These are our buildings. This is our future."
The dome is an important marketing tool for London abroad. It is one of our best known modern features, ranking with Canary wharf's 1 Canada square and the London Eye, as well as historic buildings such as this place. Tourism is a key part of our future and the dome must play an important part in that. Once this year is over and the errors of judgment fade, we will still have the Jubilee line extension. The Greenwich peninsula will remain decontaminated and I hope that the dome's structure will be there to play its part.
Finally, I commend the dome's staff. They have had to put up with the most outrageous attacks over the past 11 months, but on each occasion that I have visited, they have been first class--positive, motivated and professional. I hope that they see out their contracts; it is disappointing that they will not have the collective end-of-season party they deserve, but I am sure that they will make their own arrangements to celebrate their efforts.
Despite the errors, the dome should stay and be used to help promote east London, this great capital city and the United Kingdom throughout the world. It would be an act of vandalism for it not to remain.