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Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I apologise to the House for returning to this point, but may I take it from what the noble Lord said that the House will have an opportunity of approving the guidelines on the filming and broadcasting proposals outlined in paragraph 1? Can the House as a whole be given the particulars before the guidelines are approved?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, that is not the recommendation from your Lordships' Offices Committee. It has specially set up the group, the members of which I mentioned, to supervise the guidelines. The guidelines have to be negotiated. If the group fails to reach agreement with the BBC, there are other good, serious and responsible contenders who would wish to step into any shoes left vacant. I invite your Lordships to agree that these matters require some negotiation. I take the noble Lord's point. But it would be rather awkward to conduct negotiations of that kind across the Floor of the House. Knowing who is involved, I hope that your Lordships will feel confident that the matter will be dealt with in the way your Lordships would wish.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to start with the reflection--I do not think that it will make any of your Lordships uncomfortable--that much of the business of Government is deeply dull and extremely boring. That fact is a source of considerable discomfort to many of those who take part in it. I say that because they are very conscious of the appetite which prevails today for unceasing entertainment and amusement. That leads them to become very worried lest they themselves might be taken to be perhaps not quite as interesting as they would like to consider themselves to be.
There were some members of the past Administration who saw the coming millennium as something of an opportunity for a celebration. So keen were they to pick up this opportunity that they failed to spend any time considering the meaning of the millennium and coming to some conclusion. They seemed to treat it as a kind of super new year's day which called for a rather magnified version of the celebrations which normally take place on that day. They took little notice of the fact that that day is also an anniversary: the 2000th anniversary--whether or not it is accurate does not matter--of the birth of the Son of God, something of deep significance to Christians.
As a celebration of this particular day, they seized upon a filthy old site which they would clear up and cover with an edifice which would be a statement. I pause to express my interest in the way in which buildings now are permitted to make statements. All sorts of inanimate objects join us in making statements. If I may put it this way, with customary delicacy, not all of those statements are deeply interesting. But this building, which was to make a statement, was intended to reflect, to call attention to, the sometimes unrecognised capabilities which are so often dormant in our great nation. There was also the hope that in the wake of the statement there would also be just a tiny reminder of their own distinction.
A certain confusion about the significance of the date has covered the issue since. When the Labour Party was in Opposition, it trod very warily indeed. I thought that it was commendably discreet and very careful where it put its feet. It was obviously fearful that this celebration might bring new lustre to a government which it considered to be rather tired, and might go some way to obscuring its own startling and obvious merits.
In May 1997 a change took place. In Government, the mood gradually began to change. What the new Government had seen as sauce for a tired old Tory goose suddenly became a very welcome sauce for Labour's bright, new, sparkling gander. So the Government decided to go ahead. Again, they ran up against that difficulty to which I have already referred: that the date had another meaning besides just being a rather super new year's day. It was undeniably and rather
We are now three-quarters of the way to having a dome which is to be the centre-piece of the celebration. I think that it would be foolish to allow any implied criticism that I may have of the Government to flow over onto a building which promises to be a very remarkable one indeed. I think that it is permissible to pause and regret that the huge sum of money concerned has not been applied to some more permanent and lasting memorial. There are, after all, many other causes of which your Lordships are constantly reminded which could profit enormously by the application of such a volume of resources.
Massive resources have been devoted just to this one site. I think it is permissible to pause and express a word of regret along the lines that I have described. But it would be a waste of your Lordships' time to indulge in any prolonged lamentation. Omar Khayyam's "moving finger" has written and moved on, but the difficulty is that on this occasion it had some guidance from the present Government, with the result that much of what has been written is not easy to read. There are also some notable gaps and I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to clear them up this afternoon. It is rather unfair to remind noble Lords opposite of what they said, but perhaps I may pick one remark. In the course of asking a Question, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, with the delicacy that we all expect of him, mentioned at the end of last year the, "smell of an impending muddle". If I may put it this way, the same aroma is attacking my sense of smell at this moment. The smell of an impending muddle is with us all.
This debate gives the Government an opportunity to answer certain questions. Perhaps I may list them for the attention of the noble Lord. First, who, having the necessary experience and muscle, has full executive charge of the project? Secondly, will this huge sum which has been extracted from the people's pockets be enough? Alternatively, are we to learn in the event that because of what will doubtless be described as "tight budgeting" some vital items which were considered at one time to be necessary have been left out?
My third question is this: have the hoped for sponsors--who appear hitherto to have been rather shy--yet appeared? Is the site now clean and safe? May we have the Government's guarantee that no unpleasant substances will subsequently ooze from underneath it? Just as a matter of interest, I should be fascinated to know where and how the spoil extracted from the site
I have a further question of importance. Is this whole scheme going to be ready on time, including the Jubilee line on which so much depends? My next question is: is the building wholly proof against wind, fire and water? Is it soundproof against noises coming from outside? Perhaps the Minister will be able to comfort us too that the atmosphere of the dome gives rise to no problems or anxieties. Maybe the Minister should join us in giving a thought to the inhabitants of Greenwich who, I should have thought, face the prospect of total congestion. It is not an easy place to move around in ordinarily and with the invasion it will be very uncomfortable.
On the question of the contents, of which so little is known, we have seen pictures of a strange, unsexed human being gazing--rather surprisingly in the circumstances--at a child. But beyond that we have little knowledge of the contents.
I conclude with this question: has there ever before in human history been a building erected at such expense with so short a lifespan and with little or no knowledge as to who or what will be contained, accommodated, protected or sheltered within it? My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
In this country we are very good at exhibitions. We are equally good at cynicism. I wish first to draw the attention of the House to what Queen Victoria wrote in her diary following the 1851 Exhibition:
In 1951 the Festival of Britain was to suffer similar birth pains and triumph. It was recommended by a committee in 1946 and immediately accepted by the Government. In 1947, Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade answered that it had been reluctantly decided to abandon the holding of an exhibition since it would involve largescale demands on labour and materials and would impede the progress of reconstruction. That did not enjoy a welcome from the
That brings us to the exhibition we are to have in the year 2000. What a unique event it will be. I know, because I held the position on the Millennium Commission now held by the right honourable Michael Heseltine. I represented the opposition and I have been a party to all the decisions. Just imagine this building which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, rightly referred to as memorable. It will be equal in size to 13 Albert Halls or two Wembley Stadiums and as tall as Nelson's Column. It will be a truly remarkable building which I am sure throughout the year 2000 and thereafter will be a talking point throughout the world.
Why Greenwich? We considered many sites but were overtaken by the compulsion to bring back to society the use of 300 acres of land which was both derelict and contaminated. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that I am in turn sure that it is now properly decontaminated and that nothing will ooze from underneath. We will all be able to visit the site in great comfort.
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, said that there is some doubt about the content. It seems to me that the media are in some doubt; but the authorities are not. Great detail has been given as to the 13 zones into which the exhibition area will be divided. Time does not make it possible to go into detail on the zones, but all is decided and if the noble Lord and others care to study what is proposed they will be greatly impressed. There will be 13 zones combining to educate us all; to make us all think and to marvel. Let us remember that knowledge is power.
Is it a waste of money? The actual cost to lottery funds will be less than £400 million. That sounds a lot of money, but in the context of the millennium one must remember that around £4 billion is being spent. There will be great projects throughout the land. I shall not detail them all now; they are well known to those who live in various regions and can identify with the individual major projects, each of which will cost around £100 million. A question was asked in regard to the sponsorship money. It is forecast to be £150 million. Half of that has already been committed, so there is relief from that area.
In summary, how would I describe the forthcoming exhibition in contemporary terms? It is like the "Titanic" of 1998--not that of 1912 where everybody drowned, but the film that won 11 Oscars. I forecast at least 11 Oscars for this great exhibition.
During the whole period of the conception and construction of the Millennium Dome there has been a constant stream of rumour, tittle-tattle and speculation. One of the reasons for that has been the unnecessarily secretive way in which the Government handled the project, even since 28th February. That was a better day, but it has all gone quiet since then. As a result of that, the media have had a field day.
That has had one result. Everyone has heard of the dome; news of it has even reached the far corners of the world. I understand that several of the delegates to the recent Europe-Asia conference asked to be taken round. Whether one loves it or hates it, the dome is a fact, and a very expensive one, as my noble friend so eloquently said.
We have an established Church in this country. As my noble friend said, it will be the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. Yet the Christian involvement in the dome seems inadequate and somehow apologetic. The Lambeth Group and other committees should be using their collective imaginations to bring about a satisfactory resolution.
Public access to the experience is the key to the success of the whole enormous project. We are assured that London Underground has solved its Jubilee Line problems; that the extension will be up and running completely by spring 1999. That does not give much time. Let us hope that there is no more slippage because the deadline cannot be changed. Can the Minister say what will happen if the Jubilee Line is not ready or has teething troubles? Have the Government prepared any viable contingency plans to get 35,000 people--more of less--per day to Greenwich, or 70,000 if we are talking about pre-booked double sessions?
We have always known that the motor car will not be welcome at the dome; there is nowhere to put it. Yet millions of Britons use and prefer to use their cars for family outings such as a visit to the dome. There has therefore been much discussion as to where to put car parks. Quite rightly, every effort is being made to find suitable car park sites near railway and Underground stations. There is also the plan to use two large sites for car parking near the Thames--one north and one south of the river, east of the dome--and to use water buses on a shuttle service to the dome. That would complete a certain balance in the means of access to the dome. Many people will do anything to avoid going into London when they do not need to.
Incredibly, the "park and sail" scheme has now been shelved due to the lack of a bidder for the franchise for the shuttle to and from the car parks and the dome. I find that surprising and wonder whether conditions attached to the tender for the service make it uneconomic or whether there is some other reason. I call
I hope it will not be forgotten that large numbers of people, particularly foreign tourists in central London during the summer, will want to visit the dome on the spur of the moment. They will not want to book weeks or months ahead, and it is important that they are properly looked after.
I shall not keep your Lordships much longer. I should like to say that a great deal of public money has been spent on this project and a great deal more will be spent, whether it comes from the lottery or elsewhere. We must hope therefore that the millennium experience will be a success. We on these Benches want an assurance from the Government that it will not be exploited for political purposes. I ask therefore whether it is not now the time for the direction of the whole enterprise to be handed over to a non-political figure.
Lord Newby: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, for initiating this debate. It is fair to say that on these Benches there have been a number of serious misgivings about the whole project; about its cost, its content and, on my part at least, the extraordinary hyperbole of language which has been used by Ministers in an attempt to persuade the country of the dome's importance. However, I firmly believe that it is now time to concentrate on how we can make the dome a success. If it is a success, it will bring considerable benefits.
Of those benefits, the least tangible but among the most significant will be on the mood of the country and the perception of the UK internationally. The dome is to be possibly the largest single millennium project in the world. It will have the capacity to excite and inspire people who attend. Anyone who visited the Expo in Seville will know how powerful such a spectacular exposition of information and ideas can be. It also has the capacity to send a signal to the world that the UK is not just a backward-looking heritage theme park but is self-confident and welcoming of new developments in science, technology and leisure.
As to the more tangible benefits which the dome will bring, my noble friend Lord Thurso will speak about tourism later. But I wish to concentrate on its potential for regenerating one of the most important derelict sites in London and also one of the most economically depressed areas of the capital. A decade ago, when I went to work for the property company Rosehaugh, it had just submitted proposals for redeveloping what was then called the Greenwich Peninsula. It was one of a number of consortia which had done so and it was doing so against the backdrop of huge activity by Greenwich Borough Council. But despite all that effort and the huge amount of interest in the area, until the dome, nothing of real substance was happening. Compared to this stagnation, the regeneration impact of the dome is really tremendous. In itself it will generate 7,000 jobs and the other plans for housing on the peninsula will create further short-term building jobs and leave a legacy of a
The longer term regenerative potential of the dome depends crucially, however, on its use after the year 2000. If, as I believe it can, a sensible use can be found for it, it should surely remain where it is and continue to provide jobs and economic activity for the Greenwich area. As for the longer term use, there will no doubt be many ideas coming forward over the next couple of years. But my own preferred option would be for a major convention centre to be housed within the dome. London lacks this facility. It has relatively few sites where such a facility could be provided and the dome clearly has the capacity to handle the largest conference gatherings on a world scale.
For those involved in running the dome, the next 18 months will be frenetically busy. For that reason, I do not support the idea that every aspect of their work should be subject to over-regular and over-detailed scrutiny by Parliament. The reputation of all those involved in the project hangs on its success and I am sure that this is providing a very significant motivating force for all those involved. However, looking again at the regenerative side of the issue, there are a number of questions which I believe it is appropriate to raise with the Minister at this stage and I hope that he will forgive me if I do so.
First, will the Government, in the context of the Section 106 agreement signed with Greenwich council on the development of local labour and training schemes, consider how young people, particularly those involved in the New Deal, might be given the maximum opportunity to become involved in the project? Secondly, will the Government agree in principle with the concept of the dome remaining in situ for the rest of its natural life? Such an assurance would make it more likely that sensible ideas came forward for its longer term use. Thirdly, are the Government giving active consideration to how the neighbouring Woolwich Arsenal site might be opened up, not just to those visiting the dome and in the short-term, but in the longer term how the development of that huge, underdeveloped site, with its historic buildings, might, with the Greenwich Peninsula and the dome, begin to fulfil its economic potential?
I repeat that I am keen to see the dome succeed during the millennium year but I am equally keen to ensure that it has an on-going significant economic impact and, while necessarily concentrating on the short-term, I would urge the Government to give serious thought now to the dome's longer term economic potential.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, for introducing this debate, which is particularly appropriate perhaps during this Holy Week before Easter. Like everyone else, Christians are divided in their opinions about the Greenwich Dome. If the Churches had been given the task of organising the nation's millennium celebrations,
As far as the present project is concerned, many people feel that the enormous sums of money might have been far better spent in other ways, while others believe it would have been better to have sited the dome, if we had to have one, somewhere else. As a representative of the far east of England, I have some sympathy with that. It is irritating constantly to be fed with the impression that what happens in London is typical of what is happening everywhere else, which it is not; or else that what happens in London matters more, which it does not.
The Churches will of course be organising celebrations of the millennium nationwide, and linking with worldwide celebrations. But whatever our personal views, once the Government decided to go ahead with the dome, many have followed the lead of the Archbishop of Canterbury in working to ensure that the spiritual dimension of life in general, and the Christian faith in particular, was not only properly represented but became a real focal point of this project. Neither he nor any of us believes that the dome is the most important part of this country's millennium celebrations, but we are convinced that, because of the symbolic importance it has assumed, it is vital to get it right.
Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen. We are encouraged by the fact that the New Millennium Experience Company appears concerned to ensure proper liaison with the Churches through the Lambeth Group. We are grateful for assurances that space will be provided in the dome for people to pray, should they wish to do so, and that proper provision will be made for Christians and those of other faiths.
Very much more is needed of course. When a millennium is referred to in literature through the ages, it is almost always described as a "Christian" Millennium--the "First Christian Millennium" or the "Second Christian Millennium". It is a pity that the adjective has been dropped, because there is only one reason for the celebration of 2,000 years, as has been mentioned, and that is that it commemorates the birth of Christ. That is not triumphalism. It is a simple fact. Anything which marginalises the Christian faith in these celebrations is escaping plain reality.
We hope and expect that the Spirit Zone in particular will display something of the history of Christianity in this country. We hope that that history will be carefully and accurately presented, and will avoid repeating the kind of historical tosh journalists love to trot out; for example, that the Church of England was founded by Henry VIII because he wished to divorce his wife. I trust that Church historians will be consulted so that we avoid ecclesiastical versions of 1066 And All That.
We hope and expect that the Spirit Zone will clearly recognise the central contribution of our faith to our nation's culture and institutions, and will also encompass something of the diverse expressions of belief and spirituality in this land today. But we would not wish matters of faith to be restricted to the Spirit
For example, in the Rest Zone the pattern of the seven-day week, which includes a day of rest each week, and of Holy Days or holidays has been substantially formed by the Jewish and Christian traditions. Sadly, this tradition, which is so important to the health of the community, has been seriously undermined by the relaxation of the Sunday trading laws. The millennium could just give politicians a chance to repent if they have the courage to do so.
In the Work Zone, Christianity and other faith communities have a great deal to say. The same applies in the Local Zone and, very importantly, in the Global Zone. We hope and expect that prominence will be given to Jubilee 2000 and the campaign to release third world countries from their crippling burdens of debt. This campaign, which was initiated by the Pope a long time ago, is uniting all Churches behind it.
Any lack of enthusiasm for the dome from these Benches should not be interpreted as a lack of enthusiasm for the millennium. On the contrary, Christians have the most reason to celebrate 2,000 years of history. We shall celebrate with joy, with thanksgiving for the past, with hope for the future and with some laughter as we continue to read dire predictions that the Church is in terminal decline. The same thing has been said for 2,000 years.
We look forward to visiting the dome, if it does not cost too much. We look forward to a visit which will be fun, where we will learn and where we will reflect. We look forward to a visit which will recall our Christian foundations and which will remind us that as human beings we are creatures of the spirit as well as of the body and the mind.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I start from the defining point of this debate and ask your Lordships to bear in mind, regardless of who is the Chief Executive of whom my noble friend was inquiring, that the sole shareholder in this company is Her Majesty's Government which cannot, therefore, shelter behind the executive board. This debate is not advice addressed to a commercial company by its potential customers; it is counsel offered to a national government by a House of Parliament.
The second point has already been made. The number 2000 is not a random number; it is a point of measurement. The point at which the measurement started was, and is, recognised universally to be the birth of Jesus Christ. Inescapably, therefore, what we will be celebrating when the number 2000 comes up on the calendar will be the birth and life of Christ; and by naming the dome for the millennium we have committed ourselves publicly--and internationally--to doing so. If, as I hope and expect, we also celebrate what we have achieved in the 2,000 years since then, either it will be in the light of that life and recognising how that life has shaped what has followed, or it will be (and will be seen
The question of the identity of Jesus Christ therefore becomes very important. To some He is merely a hugely influential religious philosopher. That is a popular position because it absolves those who adopt it from further inquiry, let alone further thought, on the subject. They are not, therefore, faced with the conundrum that the claims He made were, and remain, so intellectually complete that they could not be made by a fool; and so staggering that they could only be made by a madman--unless they are true--and the more one learns about Him, the more completely sane He turns out to be.
Therefore it may be that there are some involved in planning this "experience" who only see Christ as an enormously influential, but otherwise ordinary man. They must, I think, be asked first to look at the huge influence He has had, through His followers, on the sweep of history--tragic where they have mistaken Him, as in the Spanish Inquisition, in the burning of our own martyrs and in the obscenities which the current talks are intended to bring to an end in Northern Ireland--and triumphant, when correctly understood, whether by St. Augustine, Mother Theresa or our own William Wilberforce. Then we must ask them to consider who is the Christ we are talking about, as recognised by all the saints and martyrs, a great army of reformers and myriads of common people down the ages, because this, inescapably, is what we are going to celebrate and what their plans, therefore, must reflect.
I hope that they go on to read it all, but it is in the light of that knowledge that the whole civilisation of the Western world has developed. The noble Lord has already said that knowledge is power. That knowledge is power and the noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, might take note. When subsets of that civilisation have attempted to stifle that knowledge, as in the Jacobin state in revolutionary France and the communist state of mid-20th century Russia, it has sprung up behind them when they fell, as flowers spring up after drought.
The recognition of Christ as Creator really does mean that recognition of Him cannot be tucked away in a single corner, or zone, however effectively it may there be demonstrated, as the right reverend Prelate has said. His claims, which we, inescapably, shall be celebrating, are not merely sectoral, they are not merely national, they are not even merely global--they are universal, in the strictest meaning of that word. It will not be enough, therefore, even to have recognition in one part of the dome, even if that part is the centre. There must be an
But, of course, that is not the whole of Christ's claim which we shall, inescapably, be celebrating. As they will discover, when they read on in that Book, He claimed--and to the satisfaction of millions (not all of them fools or suckers)--that He had turned physical death from a blank terminus to the glorious, triumphant and joyful beginning we shall celebrate next Sunday, for every single human being that cares to accept it.
But--and this also they must recognise--the road to that victory with Him cannot be plotted on profitable balance sheets, material goods, wealth or self-advancement. If those are our prime objectives, we are going the other way. His way puts material wealth and power at the bottom of the list and not at the top. By all means let us celebrate material success, but we can only celebrate it, in this context, neither as the master nor as the objective, but as the servant of mankind.
If the overarching recognition of Christ is to be a symbol, such as the Cross, His universal presence should be recognised by an exaltation, not of conquest and profit, but of service. The zone which caters for things spiritual must recognise the Christ who acted out what it meant to be Lord and master by taking off his coat and washing His followers' feet, and who acted out kingship by accepting an agonising and humiliating death for the sake of the human race. Beyond that, as a faint reprise of that theme, there really should be space in every sector to show how ordinary people, not geniuses, not generals, but ordinary people, can and do spend great parts of their lives in working for the good of their neighbours and of mankind.
If it does not contain both general and particular recognitions of the person of Christ in some such ways as these, it will not be Rule Britannia or even Cool Britannia, but Fool Britannia exhibiting itself in the dome.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, for promoting and providing this debate which gives us an opportunity to express our views about the Millennium Dome and perhaps to say something about the wider issues, the thought and discussion of which prompted the previous speaker.
I was one of those who initially felt that the Government might have made a mistake. I was one of the majority who, like the weekend press, is constantly carping. But once a decision had been taken I felt--rather like the noble Lord, Lord Newby--that it was incumbent on me not just to find out as much as I could about the venture but, more importantly, to do whatever I could to make it a success. I want that success, not just for us as citizens of the United Kingdom, but in
I am one of those who believes that the spirit moves in a whole variety of different ways. Indeed, even buildings make statements. To me that is what the Statue of Liberty does. It is not just for the citizens of the United States, but for the world. That is what the statue of Christ does for me in Rio de Janeiro. That is what the Holocaust exhibition in Jerusalem does for me and for many people.
Like it or not, the dome will make a statement. I should like that statement to be important in material and, even more so, in spiritual terms. I visited Greenwich with Members of the other place, many fearful of their constituents' feelings and views about the dome, because there is a good deal of criticism. I urge those noble Lords who have not yet visited the site to do so as soon as possible. If they do they will receive many of the answers to the questions that have been posed, as my noble friend Lord Montague pointed out. Many of us were greatly impressed by what we saw and by the plans that we had an opportunity to examine. There is a good deal of work still to be done; and there are more questions to be answered. But the dome will provide significant benefits in material terms for the inhabitants of Greenwich. There will be business development, new jobs, homes, public transport infrastructure, a cleaner environment than ever before, tourism, education and training, culture, and a host of other related events.
I trust that the dome will provide a legacy. To deliver that within the timescale will not be easy. We should do everything in our power to ensure that it is delivered on time and that it is a success. We have a fine heritage and culture but we also have downsides. At present we have a cultural problem in the form of an unwillingness to take risks and a lack of entrepreneurial spirit. I believe that that is linked to our failings in education, teaching skills and training. I refer here to all of the Churches. I am a member of the Anglican Church. In all our different ways we are endeavouring to put this right. We must not be diverted. Scepticism and cynicism must be confronted. I view today's debate in a positive sense as part of that process. I hope that it will assist us to meet the tight timetable and demonstrate to the world our refound confidence and innovative spirit.
I return to my major theme: spirit in the widest possible sense. I join the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich in his appeal. Although the dome may not be the centre of all the events for the Church of England, certainly it should be the centre of events for many people in this country who are not of our faith. It is very important that we and the rest of the world are seen to be celebrating the birth of Christ and beyond that the spirit of God regardless of faith.
Fashions and customs of the world go by but fundamental virtues are eternal. I hope and pray that from within the dome is radiated something to be shared with the rest of the world irrespective of faith: honesty, purity, selflessness, love, gratitude and, for all of us, humility.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I welcome this debate on the millennium and am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peyton for giving us this marvellous opportunity to call attention to an issue which, although discussed at great length, still seems to be a little unreal. The construction is real enough. It is quite breathtaking in its impact on the neighbourhood. Certainly, one cannot miss it if one travels to London City Airport. I choose the word "breathtaking" carefully. The sheer size of it and its massive intrusion on the landscape take my breath away. No matter what is said about the dome in this debate, it is here to stay and, even if we wished to, we could not stop it now.
I simply make two points in this debate. The first is the risk of creating a rift between those in the population who appear to be regarded as part of the dome's natural audience and those who are likely to feel excluded. My second point relates to the hope, already expressed during the course of this debate, that the dome will reflect in a significant way the reason for the celebration of the millennium; namely, the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Government came to office with a wish list of how it wanted to be a government of all the people. Social and any other form of exclusion would not have any place in the Government's agenda. However, there is a significant feeling--I do not put it any higher than that, although many do--that unless one is of a certain political persuasion, of a certain age group or subscribes to certain lifestyles, one is almost a non-person. Cool Britannia, Powerhouse, children as ambassadors for the day and advertising for ambassadors in our major embassies are all new ideas; but all of them exclude a huge body of people.
When the plans for the interior of the dome were announced, the inference, rightly or wrongly, was that unless one was under 40 and had lively and inquisitive kids, one would not be interested in, nor catered for by, the millennium extravaganza in Greenwich. I sincerely hope that that is not correct. Let us not forget that the dome is being financed by lottery money. Punters on the lottery are a very wide group. It is being financed by taxes and by shareholders' money through those companies which are donating funds to the dome.
The Millennium Dome should be universal in its appeal, and I look to the Minister to tell me that it will be. It may be that the dome has not yet been marketed properly to the potential audience. Conferences have been held up and down the country; but have the attendees been handpicked? I was not aware of such conferences until I read the Government's response to the Second Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of another place in Session 1997-1998 (Cm 3886).
I turn to my second point. It is appropriate to recall, as has already been said several times, that we would not be celebrating anything were it not for the fact that for the past almost 2,000 years everything has been dated from the birth of Jesus Christ. The monk Dionysius was the first to calculate the years from the birth of Christ. He was urged to do so by the Byzantine emperors who realised that their destiny was in the
When we look at the edifice that has been chosen as the single most costly and gigantic expression of specific celebration of the millennium there is comfort in the fact that the shape of the building is a dome. The dome has been a symbol of the heavens since time immemorial. The Romans placed domes over their mausoleums to remind the populace where the dead had gone. That was adapted by the Christian Church. We have a marvellous, permanent dome--it is likely to be a good deal more permanent than the one at Greenwich--at St. Paul's Cathedral, just a short distance from here, which acts as a constant reminder of the national faith in Divine Providence as revealed to us through Jesus Christ.
No society has ever survived without firm roots in the supernatural. Of course, this applies to all religions. Here, I venture on to difficult ground. There are many hidden bumps and hollows where I can trip. I respect religions other than Christianity and recognise common ground with them, but the culture of this country has been Christian-based for some 1,500 years. We must ensure that that message is loud and clear in everything that we do to celebrate the millennium. The millennium brochure states that the dome will contain a zone entitled the "Spirit Level". I am sorry; I believe it should be the "Spirit Zone"--that was a Freudian slip. I quote the following:
The noble Lord the Minister and I have had exchanges on this quite frequently since the idea of the dome was first mooted. I respect his views as a member of the Humanist Society, and he has no objection to my saying that. He respects my views as a professing and practising Christian. What I want, desperately, to achieve is an agreement from him that because of the reason for celebrating the Millennium--to reiterate, a celebration would not exist were it not for Jesus Christ--Christianity should be the single most important focus of the dome. I very much like the suggestion made by the right reverend Prelate that each of the 13 zones should have a Christian input.
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