(HANSARD) in the third session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of




21 Feb 2000 : Column 1

Monday, 21st February 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Millennium Dome: School Visits

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the arrangements for free visits by schoolchildren to the Millennium Dome; and from what sources these visits are subsidised.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, every school in the UK is eligible to apply for up to 100 free tickets to the Dome under the New Millennium Experience Company's education tour scheme. Up to 1 million free tickets will be allocated over a series of ballots. The costs attributable to this scheme, including its administration, the tickets themselves and the management costs of implementing it throughout the year are being met by the New Millennium Experience Company from the millennium experience project budget.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reply. I recognise that the Government must now concentrate primarily on paying visitors to the Dome. What was the Government's reaction to the reports in the press earlier this month of the disappointment of children and their teachers at not being allowed into more than three specified zones--the duller ones, apparently? As regards the education contribution of the Dome, when will it be reclassified from being an exhibition to being a museum?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the arrangements for the free entry of schoolchildren are

21 Feb 2000 : Column 2

a matter for the management of the New Millennium Experience Company. However, I think it would be wrong to suggest that the experience has been boring. I have a number of quotes describing what incredibly good fun and what a good educational experience it was for people who have visited the Dome. As to the point about being kept out of the more interesting zones, as the noble Lord put it, the majority of the people who enter the Dome free on school trips have free time there after they have completed the four-hour guided tour when they can go to any zone they wish.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, has the target number of visitors been reduced from 12 million to 10 million, as newspapers have suggested, and are those all paying visitors?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the break-even figure has been put at 10 million; the target figure is 12 million, all of whom comprise paying customers.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that my grandchildren went to the Dome, had a perfectly lovely time and could not have enjoyed it more but were extremely disappointed that so many of the things they wanted to examine or play with were out of order?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for saying what a good time her grandchildren had. I suggest, with respect, that most adults and children who attend the Dome say they have had such an experience. The visitor attraction has been operating since 1st January. It now receives probably more visitors than any other visitor attraction in the whole country. It is not perhaps surprising that glitches occur that need to be sorted out. We are in the process of doing that and as every day goes by it gets better and better.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does not the Minister think that even children's toys are expected to last more than two months? The Minister tells us that

21 Feb 2000 : Column 3

it is not at all surprising that things are not working too well. However, only a short period of operation has elapsed and I understand that the whole project is to last only a year.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, with the greatest respect that is an unfair comment. It is not in the least surprising that things need maintenance in a visitor attraction which attracts literally in excess of tens of thousands of visitors every day. They are being maintained.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord accept that my children's toys rarely last more than two days? Does he also accept their comment that they enormously enjoyed their visit to the Dome but felt that there was a lot of room for additional educational content? At many exhibits, for instance, the body zone, there was little explanation of what was going on. Their visit would have been more enjoyable if there had been something else to learn from.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, some people say that there is not enough educational content; some people say that there is not enough fun content; and some people say that there is not enough inspirational content. I think that the best course is to leave it to the management to determine the right balance.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, does the Minister feel that the "Black Adder" film is appropriate for children to see? It is certainly not something that I would have expected my grandchildren to see. Will he use his influence to ensure that something more appropriate is shown? It is a great wasted opportunity.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I do not know how old the noble Lord's grandchildren are. If my children were told that they could not watch "Black Adder" because it is too mature for them, they would be extremely surprised.

Letters Placed in House of Lords Library

2.40 p.m.

Lord Swinfen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will make available to the public all letters to Lords which give answers to questions put to Ministers on the Floor of the House and all papers placed in the Library of the House in answer to such questions.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as a general rule, the information in letters from Ministers to Members and other papers deposited in the Libraries of the House should be released by departments on request. Public authorities should make documents in the public domain available to those who request them.

21 Feb 2000 : Column 4

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, does not the Minister agree with me that the Written Answer given to me by the Leader of the House that,

    "...points ... raised in debate are of particular interest only to the Peer who raises them".--[Official Report, 10/1/2000; col. WA 92.]

was insulting to this House in general and derogatory of the general public?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as the noble Lord did not draw my attention to the matter beforehand I have no idea of either the context or the detail of what was stated. As regards letters placed in the Library of this House as a result of questions put to Ministers, in the ordinary course of events the information in those letters should be made available by the relevant departments who have placed the letters there to members of the public who request it.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that it does to some extent devalue Hansard not to have a full reply printed in it, because Questions that are put down are often nowadays increasingly siphoned off with the words, "I am referring it to someone else to reply in a letter"? The information does become available, of course, in the Library, but subscribers to Hansard are denied the information which is often of general interest.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the question of what is published in Hansard is a matter for the parliamentary and Hansard authorities, not for the Government. Noble Lords are shaking their heads, but the question of what should be in Hansard and, in particular, the question of whether accompanying correspondence should be included--which is the issue raised by my noble friend--are matters for Hansard to decide, because from time to time the department would not wish Hansard to be filled with too much correspondence.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I was referring simply to Written Questions due to be answered.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the issue in relation to Written Questions is whether accompanying correspondence is to be included, which is a matter for Hansard. The question for the Government is whether they should aim to include the bulk of a response in the body of the Written Answer itself rather than in the accompanying correspondence, to which the answer must be yes, one should try as much as possible to give a clear reply in the body of the Written Answer.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, as Written Questions appear in Hansard, is it not appropriate that wider publicity should be given to the Answers and that, even if they are not published in Hansard, they should at

21 Feb 2000 : Column 5

least be published on the Internet to ensure that it is not necessary to go to the relevant department in order to make a specific request for that information?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page