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Lord Selsdon: My Lords, it used to be the practice in this House that only people who knew about a subject would speak on it in Wednesday debates.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I have been a Member of this House since 1993 and from my observation of many of the debates in this House I have never considered that to be a criterion for taking part in one!

When I worked in Fleet Street I was often the only woman taking part in negotiations. When I saw employers and trade union men run for cover when the going got tough and when they might be blamed for something, I developed the theme that the world was full of males but few men! Over the past month that thought came to me time and time again as I heard and read about Opposition spokespeople in another place and some noble Lords in this House trying to paint out their role in the development of the Dome. I agree with the right honourable Member, Mr Heseltine, that it is a role to be proud of. But listening to some of the statements one would think that those people were trying to rewrite history; and that is not possible.

I wonder what the leader of Her Majesty's Opposition thought that he was doing when, in support of the shadow Minister Mr Peter Ainsworth, he said on 7th September, "Shut the Dome, and now". What did the people employed there, the businesses

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with investment in the Dome and the people of Greenwich think when that statement was made? I believe that when he made it the right honourable Member the Leader of the Opposition knew that it would cost more to close the Dome then than to keep it open until the end of the year.

The noble Lord, Lord Sharman, was right in his approach. I congratulate him on dealing with the issue by following the traditions of this House. The noble Lord talked a lot of sense. I do not say that in a patronising way. I respect his vast business experience. He was right to deal with the issues that he did. However, he also said that he would not blame any one individual, because it would take all his allocated time in the debate to name all the individuals concerned. He is absolutely right. Mistakes have been made. Much needs to be learned for the future. But the mistakes have not been made by one person or one party. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, and my noble friend Lord Puttnam are right. We are in grave danger of developing a blame culture in this country. This Government have made mistakes; the Minister admitted that mistakes were made. I just wish that those other males would become proper men and admit their role in the whole process.

Perhaps I may say this in a friendly way to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. She mentioned the reference of my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington to £900 million and said in what I took as a friendly comment that he probably needed some vocational training. The noble Baroness may not call it that but that is how I term it. The noble Baroness is a new Member of the House. When she has been around a little longer she will know that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, needs no vocational training on accountancy from anyone--not even, with respect, from someone who was last year the president of a professional institute. My noble friend runs circles around most people when it comes to knowing facts. I congratulate him on his ingenious way of bringing his pet subject into the debate.

Let us get the matter into perspective. Before the debate began, I, with other noble Lords, listened to a Statement about inherited SERPS. It referred not to millions but billions of pounds which people lost because of the policy and inaction of the previous government. So let us get this issue into perspective.

I think that in the longer-term future the inheritance from the Dome will be judged more fairly than by today's generation. It is self-evident that it has contributed a great deal. The figure of £900 million has been mentioned. It is not £900 million down the drain. There are houses, jobs and the regeneration of the whole area. I suggest that the Dome has been a major contribution to the regeneration of the heart of the City, the River Thames. It is a pleasure today to travel down the Thames; it was not so a few years ago. That was because of the vision of the previous government and the courage of this Government to carry that vision forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said that he thought that the noble and learned Lord, Lord

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Falconer, had gone over the top. I do not agree, because, with respect, he and the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, before him, who was the first to speak after the Minister's introduction, called for my noble and learned friend's resignation. Some might think that it is going over the top to answer vigorously, but if someone calls for another's resignation they should mean it seriously and we should examine the issues and defend the person who is being attacked, if necessary.

In closing, I urge my noble and learned friend to take no lessons from the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, about what he should do and how he should do it. His record on accountability is clear. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, as Secretary of State for Wales between 1979 and 1987. He presided over the biggest job losses and the greatest increase in deprivation that the Principality of Wales had seen for a long time. The people of Wales recognised that, and the action of one of his successors, who is now the Leader of the Opposition, by ensuring that at the following election not one Tory MP was elected from Wales. My noble and learned friend has no lessons to take from the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell.

10.1 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, in the four minutes of this gap moment, dare I offer a thought that I hope will encourage us all? I simply remind the House again of the neighbouring, massive cultural assets sited near to the Dome in Greenwich. I have not heard them being underlined. There is the superb Greenwich Park, where Henry VIII went hunting and hawking; there is Greenwich Palace, where Queen Elizabeth I was born and where James I died; there is Greenwich Hospital--latterly the Royal Naval College--which is one of the supreme masterpieces of Sir Christopher Wren, one of the great architects of enduring influence in this city. The painted hall in Wren's complex is becoming a great centre for concerts. In this Bach anniversary year, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi choir took their orchestra and their cantatas there just the other week. There are wonderful riverscapes and views across the river--such a contrast to the views of the past.

I am a 66 year-old south Londoner whose family was bombed out in 1940, but I have witnessed the regenerative energies of our city. I therefore ask the Minister to assure us that the next occupants of the Dome, whoever they may be, will be committed to joined-up thinking for those other historic assets in the Greenwich area, bringing cultural and spiritual regeneration to that place. We should unite in support of the Government to ensure the Dome's contribution to that future in the richly cultural area of Greenwich. That will be done by joined-up thinking with the other people involved.

10.3 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, it is useful to have current problems put into geographical and historical context. I welcome the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield.

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I expected a large number of speakers in the debate. I was startled to see the heavyweight presence on the Government Front Bench at the beginning of the debate. It is highly appropriate that his ministerial colleagues were supporting the noble and learned Lord, who has found himself pitched into such a controversial position. I leave it to the public to judge whether the large number of speeches from the Labour Back-Benches were made out of admirable loyalty and solidarity, as the noble Lord, Lord Graham, said, or whether they might have protested a little too much.

The debate started on a very personal note. The Liberal Democrats have deliberately chosen not to personalise the issue. The Minister rightly started by asking what lessons should be learned. I shall resist the temptation to ask what the Conservatives would have done and when they would have done it had they remained in office. However, at some point I should be interested to know what lessons they might have learned from this exercise.

The Secretary of State, the right honourable Chris Smith, in a debate in another place earlier this month identified what he called "four key lessons". Those were: to adopt a clear management structure; to bring in the experts; to make prudent estimates at the outset; and to improve, he said, everyone's performance on risk analysis. I was glad to hear the noble and learned Lord extend that to the issue of whether governments should try to run projects. I believe that the consensus of this House is that that is a risky business for a government to get into.

However, if politicians are to run projects--politicians, after all, should be particularly nimble-footed--I believe it is a little odd if they do not have a plan B in case things start to go wrong. Of course, plan B may always have been to play Oliver Twist.

As has been pointed out, as early as 1996, or perhaps earlier, it was clear that the private sector would not accept the risks. Why was that not treated, in the current jargon, as a wake-up call, as my noble friend Lord Sharman, who knows Byzantium when he sees it, might have said? As the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, indicated, the risks must have been accepted. That must be the logic.

If the Government run a project--I understand the distinction from managing a company--I believe that it is unbecoming of them to make scapegoats of those who are not politicians. At any rate, it is unbecoming of them to have allowed the succession of postholders, who left their posts in a manner that began to be reminiscent of the programme "Big Brother", to be cast as scapegoats. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and others said, one of them--Jennie Page--brought the project to fruition. I believe that she deserves enormous credit and praise. It was tough on her that the world seemed to assume that the same talents could be used to run the project as those which were used to complete the project. I am glad that her contribution is now being acknowledged.

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Several noble Lords referred to the projected visitor figures fitting the funding required in order to achieve the funding. I believe that my noble friend Lord Jacobs is probably correct that, while that may be our analysis, it will never be acknowledged. However, we know that in June 1997 the Millennium Commission was concerned about the business plan. I cannot understand why later no one said, or at least said with any force, "How can we ever again believe a forecast? Each time a transfusion of cash is requested, the public is led to believe that that is the last transfusion". Were there no conditions attached to each grant? As my noble friend said, perhaps it is a little byzantine.

The National Audit Office report stated that sponsorship income was received more slowly than NMEC expected. Surely enforceable contractual commitments were in place; and, if not, why not? Perhaps I may also raise a point which I do not believe has been referred to tonight; that is, the question of contracts and the payment of contractors and especially small contractors. I hope that the noble and learned Lord can confirm that tales that they have not been paid on time are not correct.

I have had difficulty in believing not only the visitor numbers and the cash amounts required, but also, like the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, the apparent effect on sales figures of what the press said--a drop of 30 to 50 per cent in the following week. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, who talked about the press's obsessive negativity. Members of the press who queued with increasing impatience at Stratford last New Year's Eve have treated that bit of revenge as a dish not only to be eaten cold but to be eaten several times over.

Is there a lesson too in relation to the negotiating skills required? I mention that this evening in particular, given that we now have a single preferred bidder for the Dome. At least I understand that that is the case. I read today that briefly within No. 10 there was a suggestion that it might prove a new home for Arsenal. I am not sure whether the Prime Minister is a Spurs supporter and floated that one. At any rate, we are now left with the Legacy bid.

Before coming to this debate, I was asked what step the Government would take if the Legacy deal falls through. But that is a plan B which I really do not expect the Minister to share with us this evening.

Another question that is in my mind is how best the Comptroller and Auditor-General can play his part. Audit, by its very nature, is after the event. But how effective can it be? The report is intensely interesting but, inevitably, rather late.

The Dome project is, as has been said, not just a national project. It is also a major regional project. I refer, of course, to the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula. If central government become involved in projects which have both national and regional aspects, a point for the future may be how Ministers will relate to regional government on such issues. I declare an interest as a member of the Greater London Assembly and I know that the noble and learned Lord is sympathetic to having a dialogue with

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London's government on the issue, although we have still not resolved how formally and publicly we can do that.

The regeneration is certainly to be applauded, although it has been trumpeted relatively recently. To me, the justification is just a little bit post hoc ergo propter hoc. But I ask: how good is that return? We have heard about the number of jobs and about the housing. But how good is that proportionate to the investment? Will the Minister tell the House what objectives were set for regeneration, both in 1994 and in 1997; how far those objectives have been met; and to what extent the regeneration compares with other major schemes in the sense of the return obtained? The noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, talked about the real social gains but we also need to know about the real cost, so that any lessons in that regard can be applied. Regeneration is expensive, but I should like to know quite how expensive.

The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and others referred to transport and the Jubilee Line in particular. That is certainly a success, in sharp contrast to the order in which things were done across the river. But as my noble friend Lord Jacobs said--and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, also referred to this--there was scope for integrated ticketing and more imaginative transport arrangements.

The right reverend Prelate gave us wise words about employment, skills development and the amount of affordable housing. He referred to the proportion of affordable housing as being 25 per cent. I hope that we shall soon see a higher proportion of affordable housing in the new development achieved within London, including for people on moderate incomes.

Like others, when I see the building, my spirits lift. I love the building. But I am not sure that I can agree with the comparison with the Sydney Opera House whose function was planned from the start. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that a building without a function is poorer for that. I should feel more comfortable where I knew that the function preceded the form.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred to the Thames and criticised the private palaces which have been built on some parts on its banks. That must be due to the planning policies of some, but happily not all, London boroughs. In others, there have been huge successes including most recently, the Thames Barrier Park, which is a terrific facility.

Finally, the NAO report says that there should be a full understanding of the project from cradle to grave. That is an unfortunate expression. Many of us were happy to celebrate 11 months ago, but some of us took the view that the new millennium would start on 1st January 2001. There may be some connection there with what has happened with the Dome but I shall not pursue it. I merely say that I wish the Dome and the Greenwich peninsula well in the second millennium.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, my noble friend Lady O'Cathain was absolutely right when she

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said that tonight we should not be looking at the person behind the office and attaching blame to that individual, although we should expect high standards of public accountability from our Ministers. I shall concentrate on that aspect. I cannot play fine games with fine words. I simply have to look at what the public outwith this Chamber see; how they understand what has been said here; what has been understood here; and what picture has been painted for them.

It is always interesting to listen to the noble and learned Lord plead a case with the consummate skill of a lawyer even when that case is flawed. Let us get some of the misunderstandings out of the way. Yes, of course, there was all-party support for building the Dome. Nobody has hidden from that fact; no one has run away from it, despite what some noble Lords have said today. The bipartisan support was for the celebration of the millennium in the best way possible, for all that is best about this country and with the regeneration of Greenwich as a welcome consequence. However, that consequence should be within a budgeted forecast, not one that simply happens regardless of cost and regardless of outcome.

The fact that we supported that bipartisan project does not mean that as a result we should be expected to support the financial mismanagement of the Dome that has occurred under the guardianship of this Government. As the Minister said, the Government reviewed the entire project after the election in 1997. We have had a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about who said what and when about particular visitor forecasts.

On several occasions we have been directed to the NAO report and noble Lords disagreed about the month in which a budget was adopted. The simple fact is that in the NAO report there is reference in paragraph 3.1 to the fact that the project was a provisional one that would be amended as time went on. I shall be delighted to give way to the noble and learned Lord. Perhaps he wants me to read out paragraph 3.1 and in so doing extend my speech.

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