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Baroness Noakes: My Lords, perhaps I can turn to the role of the shareholder. The NAO report shows how closely involved the shareholder was in the affairs of the company, attending most of the board meetings, the weekly meetings and receiving all the reports. He got the company to accept the 1 million free visits for schoolchildren to the Dome, notwithstanding that that would put another hole in the finances. The directors seemed to act in accordance with his instructions, which may or may not make him a shadow director and, therefore, fully within the points that I have already raised in respect of the normal liabilities of directors. If one asks where the directors were in looking at what went wrong with the financial affairs of NMEC, we should also ask where the shareholder was, if not because he was a shadow director, because he entered into a very detailed financial memorandum with the company, not all of which appears to have been kept. For example, one of the conditions is that the company has to meet its debts as they fall due. There were certainly instances referred to in the NAO report and PricewaterhouseCoopers' report of that
I invite the noble and learned Lord to agree that a model which purports to use a Companies Act company, but then so undermines it that the checks and balances in that framework do not work, becomes a deeply flawed model to carry out this kind of project. It pretends to have the face of a commercial operation but it does not have any of the counterweights. That results in everybody who is involved in the project not bearing any of the responsibilities that would normally be expected to attach to such projects in the private sector.
I should be grateful for the noble and learned Lord's views on the adequacy of this model for projects such as the Dome. I should also be interested in his view as to what the consequences would have been if this project had been carried out by a Government department reporting to a Minister, had the project been as badly managed as it has.
I have two final questions for the noble and learned Lord. I am still unclear about the final financial outcome. Will the noble and learned Lord say how much money he expects to be paid to the company by Legacy and how much will be repaid by the Millennium Commission? Will he also say whether the final drain on Lottery funds of £628 million set out in the NAO report, which I would remind noble Lords amounts to a subsidy of about £140 per paying visitor to the Dome, will be reduced?
Will the noble and learned Lord also explain what expert advice he received before Legacy was proclaimed the preferred bidder, whether that advice was accepted and, if not, why not? Finally, will he explain what further risks remain before this project is brought to a final conclusion?
Lord Varley: My noble friend is number 29. I am sure that he will slog a few around when he gets in. Coming in at this stage reminds me of what was reported as having been said by a noble Lord many years ago in a debate with as many speakers as this. He said:
This has been a strange debate. Every speech made from the Conservative Benches, with the exception of that of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, has looked at this project from the day when the Labour Government came into office; it did not exist before then. The noble Baroness was very fair. She said words to the effect that everybody is to blame.
I should like to make one or two points for the record. The project was conceived by the last government. The Millennium Commission included people from all political parties and none. The Cabinet Committee that took the decision in 1996 to build the Dome included Mr William Hague, the then Secretary of State for Wales, now the Leader of the Conservative Party. The Cabinet Committee agreed the method of funding the financial structure of the company and those to be appointed to it. They approved the site and the way in which it should be designed. They appointed Miss Jennie Page. That was an extremely good appointment. She did an exceptional job while she was there. When the election was about to take place, the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, was so concerned about the future of the Dome that he sought a meeting with the then Leader of the Opposition and asked for his support.
It is strange that we have not today heard a speech from the Conservative Benches mentioning Mr Michael Heseltine. I know that he is now persona non grata as far as the Conservative Party is concerned. He is a bad boy and no one likes to mention him. Only 16 days ago in another place Michael Heseltine said that it seemed reasonable to back expert advice that around to 10 to 12 million visitors were possible. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark was right to lambast the press about how they behaved in connection with the Dome. On 13th November, Mr Michael Heseltine said:
When Labour won the election, there was some hesitation about whether the project should go ahead. But I believe that if they had not decided to go ahead, the cry from the Conservative Party would have been deafening. Perhaps they would have been screaming from the rooftops that this wonderful, imaginative project, on which the Deputy Prime Minister had set his heart, had been abandoned by the Conservative Party. Labour won and the Dome was constructed, employing thousands of people. It became the largest building project in Europe. It was finished on time, unlike the building of the British Library, the completion of which was delayed by many years and cost millions of pounds. I do not make any complaint about that. But nobody has mentioned that and that took place during almost the whole of the period when
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I simply wish to say that there was a massive amount of criticism about the project management of the British Library. The noble Lord should go back to the official record. We have a wonderful Library here which will dig up all the stuff for him. It came from all sectors of the House.
Lord Varley: My Lords, who resigned over that project? Whose head were they calling for? Who did they pillory? Who did they hound? Nobody. They simply decided that when the Dome came along they would hound my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer. Those are the facts.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, is the noble Lord really suggesting that this Government were so feeble that they were afraid that if they abandoned the Dome, after all the advice they received at the beginning of this project when they took office, the Conservatives might make a bit of a fuss?
Lord Varley: My Lords, if they had wanted to abandon it, they could have done so. But the noble Baroness would have been the first person charging up and down the country saying that it had been abandoned. That is my belief. Others would have done so also. They would not have dared not to support the Deputy Prime Minister at the time. I wonder whether the noble Baroness sat on one of those Cabinet Committees with Mr Michael Heseltine. She shakes her head. That is her misfortune. If she had, she would not be making the comment she is making today.
The reason for the controversy which caused this debate is that insufficient people visited the Dome. I only hope that my noble friend Lord Bruce, when the doctors get to work on him, will be able to visit it. I am sure he would enjoy it. I and my family have been. We enjoyed it, particularly my grandchildren. They loved every moment they spent there. Of course, as others have said in the course of this debate, that is in common with the majority of people who have visited the Dome.
All the financial difficulties stem from the shortfall in visitor numbers. The visitor figures on which the financial calculations were made were accepted long before the Labour Government came into office. To blame the present Government alone for the shortfall in revenue, and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer in particular, is preposterous.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is not in his place. But that should not restrain me. I did not ask him to leave. It is sometimes said that Members who come to this place from the House of Commons mellow; they do not enter into the spirit of
The way in which leading Conservatives have behaved is absurd and their antics do them no credit. I know that they are in a bit of difficulty in the country. There were three by-elections last week, all of which Labour won. I do not believe any elector refused to go to the polls until my noble and learned friend resigned. The House will recall that the Conservative Party tried to do the same to my noble friend Lord Simon of Highbury as they are doing to my noble and learned friend. When my noble friend Lord Simon left BP to become a Labour Minister, they went after him in the same way. John Redwood spent every waking minute attacking him. The same happened when my noble friend Lord Sainsbury of Turville became a Minister. Both he and my noble friend Lord Simon came through those onslaughts with their reputations and dignity intact and enhanced.
Those of us who have looked at this matter objectively have every confidence in my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer. He has the confidence of all those who are prepared to look at the facts. He should take no lessons from a Conservative Party that gave us the poll tax, mishandled the BSE crisis, invented Railtrack and caused all the chaos on the railways. My noble and learned friend will come through this period with credit and go on to play a much greater role in government. I wish him every success.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I hope to be a little less aggressive, perhaps even mellow. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for introducing this debate and defending his position so spiritedly. I do not intend to speak at great length but shall concentrate on the visitor projections and leave the report of the National Audit Office and other matters to your Lordships.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Varley, my right honourable friend Mr Heseltine does feature in my notes. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, who made a skilful speech, I worked on the Greenwich peninsula in the late 1980s and have also visited the Dome. Apparently, I was stunned. I shall not say what stunned me, but I enjoyed the "BlackAdder" film. I was definitely struck by the extravagant design of the structures of each zone. Like many noble Lords, I agree that the Dome itself is, and will continue to be, a very impressive building. I also agree with the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, about comparisons with the Sydney Opera House.
I do not profess to be an expert on property. However, like my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, I hope that the Dome will be kept for exhibitions. I believe that it would be wasted if it were used purely as a tent over prefab offices. To knock down the Dome may well be better value for money, but London will be
The Minister referred to my right honourable friend Mr Heseltine. If I inherited a project from my right honourable friend, be it a helicopter or single currency project, I would exercise a certain amount of caution. A target of 12 million people requires a substantial proportion (about 20 per cent) of the population of the United Kingdom to visit the Dome. Some noble Lords have asked at what point the Dome's budget will go into balance in terms of attendance. We must not forget that visitors to the Dome finance the running of the Millennium Experience, not the whole project. Only £200 million of the budget comes from commercial receipts, including visitors. I do not argue with the arithmetic. However, the total budget is about £758 million, which appears to equate to a planned subsidy of about £80 per visitor. That point seems to have been missed by many noble Lords.
My difficulty with the whole project is that most families cannot afford the discretionary expenditure required to visit the Dome. That expenditure includes the cost of travel to the Dome and sustaining them, normally by way of fairly expensive fast food outlets. Think of an ordinary family of four in Newcastle upon Tyne, or some other great northern city. Even if use is made of a family railcard, the cost is £60 per adult and £15.75 per child. In addition, a family ticket for the Dome is £57. Therefore, the total cost per family is £200. I do not believe that many families can afford that discretionary expenditure, and perhaps that is the underlying cause of the lack of attendance. I do not understand why the consultants to the Dome did not foresee the problem.
In addition to travel costs, there is transit time. A family from the north may spend six hours in a train. Young children will become very tired during a journey of that length. For families who travel from northern cities, there must be many places which are easier to reach and perhaps more interesting. The noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, referred to the use of coaches. The problem of tiredness will be made worse with coaches because of the longer travelling time required. It may even involve an overnight stay, which will result in yet further cost. Your Lordships can pop over to the Dome any day of the week. However, would we take the trouble to go all the way to Liverpool or Edinburgh if the Dome was sited there?
There is one further difficulty. Two weeks ago I visited the Dome late on the Sunday night. I would certainly not like to go there when it was any busier. There was a 30 minute wait for the journey zone and a 40 minute wait for the body zone. Even with the low attendance figures that we are sadly experiencing I understand that those are not unusual delays. If there were a 100 per cent greater attendance figure at the Dome, the whole experience would be unbearably busy.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer for introducing the debate and for his unending good humour in the face of scurrilous scape-goating and blame-seeking by the media and their friends.
Having listened for several hours today, and not just today, to some noble Lords opposite decrying the Dome, I have come to the not unsurprising conclusion that an unhealthy amount of pleasure is being taken in exaggerating the admitted shortcomings of the Dome project and in minimising its undoubted successes, not least to the wonder and satisfaction of up to 6 million people.
Those noble Lords who would be first off the starting blocks in calling themselves patriots in a debate on so-called European superstates--I do not refer to my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington--suddenly lose all sense of patriotism and national pride when it comes to sharing collective responsibility over our major national millennium project, the Dome.
There appears to be a media feeding frenzy of failure when it comes to the Dome--almost an exultation in searching for failure of any kind--which masks three important issues. First, the Dome was the centrepiece for a wonderful range of millennium projects throughout the regions of the United Kingdom. The Birmingham Millennium Point is one such project. Secondly, it masks the fact that the risk venture which is the Dome--many noble Lords here today agree that it is a risk venture and was from the start--had its genesis in the previous Conservative government. Thirdly, there are those who never wanted the project to succeed in the first place and are taking prurient pleasure in a media-fuelled controversy. They see it as an early Christmas present. No wonder people get cynical about politicians.
The Dome was a risk venture. No noble Lord on this side of the House is claiming that it is an outrageous success. But what we are saying is that as the country's number one visitor attraction it has brought considerable pleasure to millions of families across the United Kingdom. Through its exhibits, zones and performances it has redefined what millions of British families can expect in the future from a great day out.
In the cold light of dawn, I believe that the Dome experience will have altered families' expectations of what standards a national visitor attraction needs to reach to ensure satisfaction in the future. That is in addition to all the benefits that noble Lords have identified, such as the strong regeneration benefits and the marvellous employment benefits that the Dome has brought.
Finally, perhaps I may set the accusations that we keep hearing into some kind of context by comparing the records of the Dome with those of our most popular tourist attractions. According to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics Social Trends publication, the Dome is attracting similar numbers of people to Blackpool pleasure beach, without the candy-floss and the donkeys. It has had double the number of visitors of Alton Towers and the Tower of London and far more than the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum put together. Those are figures to celebrate, not figures to be condemned in negative terms.
While willing to understand and learn the lessons highlighted for the future by the National Audit Office report, the Government are not willing to devalue the experience of millions of families, the exciting benefits of a huge regeneration project on the Greenwich peninsula or the security of employment of thousands of people, especially young people. That is a legacy from the Dome which will endure and of which we should all be proud.
Viscount Chandos: My Lords, I shall try to be brief at this hour, after a long and, I believe, revealing debate, out of which, with the exception of the contributions of a few noble Lords, has come a balanced picture of the successes and failures of the Dome and, even more clearly, an overwhelming endorsement of the integrity of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer.
The exceptions have been concentrated, to a statistically--but perhaps not politically--extraordinary extent, on the Conservative Benches opposite, whose occupants, with the noble exception of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, seemed to have approached the issue with a rare mix of condescension towards popular taste and enthusiasm, surprising ignorance and a selective amnesia verging on Alzheimer's of the Ernest Saunders variant. For what it is worth, my own assessment of the project endorses the near universal admiration of the building itself and the recognition of the invaluable benefits of the resulting urban regeneration. If the contents of the building, on the harshest criteria, have scored, overall, as solid performers, rather than smash-hit blockbusters, my noble friend Lady McIntosh has already testified to how creditable that result is in even the best-run creative businesses. At least as important as the quality of the Dome's contents during this year is the decision as to its future. It seems to me that the benefits from a successful new use of the Dome have the capability of dwarfing whatever mistakes and disappointments, as the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, even-handedly described them, that have arisen in its short life to date.
In that context, I was surprised by the rather deprecating terms used by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, to describe the Legacy consortium's proposed use of the Dome as a science and technology business park. Perhaps that accurately reflects his party's attitude towards the new business on which our
Many noble Lords have referred back to the decision in June 1996 by the previous government to pursue the project as a public sector one, following the failure of any private-sector operator to come forward. This, remember, from a government which had elevated the worship of privatisation and the degeneration of the public sector to an ideological fetish. As the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, and others have emphasised, the reticence of the private sector signalled clearly and powerfully one thing: beware, high risk. As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, suggested, the identification of risk is a key issue for businesses and indeed all organisations. When the then Conservative government made the decision to proceed despite the signals from the private sector, it must implicitly have acknowledged the high risks of the project. When, in opposition, senior members of the Conservative Party from their Front Benches and Back Benches gave support, and in some cases strong encouragement, to the project's continuation, they must have recognised that those high risks remained.
It is for that reason that the sanctimonious strictures from the Benches opposite--even when they are based on accurate matters of implementation where acknowledged mistakes may have been made--are so offensive to those of us on these Benches.
In looking for lessons to learn, I would be sad if a blanket conclusion were reached that the Government should shun completely the active promotion of popular cultural and entertainment projects, particularly those with significant regenerative aspects. Rather, I believe the cumbersome structure and other handicaps to the Dome's optimal management that other noble Lords have analysed should clearly be avoided if and when future projects are pursued.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, suggested that the Dome was conceived out of hubris. If it was, I find it difficult to attribute that hubris other than to the government in office at the time of the project's conception. In fact, I believe the conception was based not on hubris, but on a brave, possibly excessively brave, aspiration to mark the new millennium on a widespread, popular basis. Since May 1997, and not least since January 1999 when my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer assumed responsibility, a remarkably challenging and difficult situation has been managed with persistence, patience, skill and integrity. We owe him, and all others who have worked on the Dome, a vote of thanks, not of censure.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I am probably an unnecessary appendix in this debate. When I looked at the list of speakers today I could not understand why there were names of so many noble Lords on the Benches opposite. I suppose it is a Parliament of Crows where they are all cawing together because the senior crow has a wing down at the bottom of the tree.
I wonder whether the Dome may not become the kind of dimpled chad of the Labour party. I know not. I intend to go back a little. I have always ended up appointed to difficult jobs by the Labour Party, because it always appointed hereditary Peers to unpaid jobs. The one I intend to talk about now was when the present noble Lord, Lord Shore, appointed me to be chairman of the Greater London and South East Councils Sport and Recreation body. It was to prepare a plan for sport and recreation for the future.
Tonight I have listened to the biggest example of short-term thinking and short-termism that I have ever heard in this House. People seem to be attacking each other with absolutely no knowledge or understanding. The preparation of a regional recreational strategy was a non-party task. We came to the very simple conclusion that we must look after people when they are not working or sleeping. One needed a very careful plan. We had the help of many trade union leaders and my executive committee of 152, including the Army, the Navy and the Royal Parks. Some wonderful people were involved. There was Clive Jenkins who wrote an excellent book called The Collapse of Work. There was another one called, I believe, The Leisure Shock.
We decided that it was a good idea to make people happy. But, when the report was produced, somebody said, "Wait a moment. You'd better do something about it". But half way through the proposal Michael Heseltine appeared. He then reappointed me. I found myself in the most difficult situation of all, in that we needed a really big venue in inner London for multi-purpose activities. This led to one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I learned later that I had only been appointed because someone had looked me up in Who's Who and found my father instead.
My father had an interesting career in many ways, apart from wartime and so on, and he decided that he would be a boxer and an all-in wrestler for charity down the East End and the Isle of Dogs. It was a very good idea. He was told that he must lose because everyone liked to beat up a Peer. This seems to be what is happening to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I thank him for being in his place all day. He has had nothing to eat. Should he wish to leave while I am speaking I shall be very happy that he should do so. I have nothing to say against him personally. As a good Celt--I, too, am a Celt--we have a lot in common, whereas many Members of his own Benches are slightly different from him.
People seem to get hung up with this business called "PR". The Labour Party calls it "public relations", or the presentation of something. The twitters from the Liberal Democrat Party--if that is what a collection of
I want to explain my own project. We were asked whether we could find a big, multi-purpose venue. We had a study carried out by very good people and it was decided that it could be at Greenwich, in an old shed at Brooklands in Woking, at the Alexandra Palace or in a banana shed in Docklands. The banana shed in Docklands was chosen.
I was asked--I was young, the same age as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and not very experienced in these matters--if I would be chairman of this body. The Government were kindly going to give us the building--the banana shed--and the DOE were going to give us a grant. But we had not got any money to start with and it was back to the business of rooks or crows. As many people know, the Docklands symbol was a crow. We managed to arrange for the marathon to run past this part of Docklands, and my cousins, friends and others, on roller-skates and dressed up in crow uniforms, collected £200--and we formed a charity to start this great event.
The plan was for the structure to be as big as a football pitch inside, with a single span. We had the great and the good there. The company of the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, instead of jobbing backwards after the event, produced the budget. We had the great GEC as one of the partners, and the great P&O Group and the great Grand Metropolitan, who were to manage it. We also had the Sports Council, the representatives of 41 different sports and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets--you name it, they were there.
This was a remarkable achievement. It was going to be on budget; it was practically finished. Then, in 1986, a rival emerged on the scene--a dome. The London dome was to be built. Sponsored in a way by Americans, it was to be a 25,000-seater stadium which looked remarkably like the current Dome. That appeared on the day we were seeking to raise some more money with Kleinwort Benson and it caused a bit of difficulty.
There was then a fire--the Bradford fire. You would not have thought that the Bradford fire would have anything to do with Docklands, but it did. The fire chiefs came along and said, "We are terribly sorry, you cannot have any people in your building. The 10,000 people you were going to have cannot come in. You have got to completely re-roof it". The reason for that was that the building belonged to the Port of London Authority, not to the local authority. Therefore it did not exist. So when the new legislation came in, it had to be deemed to exist and comply with the new legislation.
We liked the London Borough of Tower Hamlets; it was a good Labour council. Peter Shore was the Member of Parliament who appointed me and, although I was never paid anything or received any expenses, I felt that I owed him something, and I owed Tower Hamlets something because that is where my father had lost most of his fights. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets then had a problem--the Labour Party was kicked out. Its recreational strategy, which led to support, was not able to be implemented because it had a young councillor who held the balance of power who was under age. So it was defunct.
Then, much to my regret, the GLC, which was a very good supporter and was going to provide an annual subvention to ensure that we kept our head above water, decided that, as I was a Conservative, I was persona non grata and that unless I voted to retain the GLC it would withdraw its support. It then said that I must stand up and speak in its favour. This was difficult for me because my mother was the Lord Mayor of Westminster and was opposed to the GLC, and my cousin was doing the PR for the GLC. So I went to see the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition. It was placed on record and it was thought that the Sergeant-at-Arms should properly go over the bridge and take the person concerned because he was trying to influence Parliament. But we lost the grant. We then found to our surprise that we had to get full private sector money. With the help of the organisation of the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, a new budget was produced. It was decided to have many more entertainments, in particular pop concerts and music festivals. The ICA was there, promoting new arts. It had headless chickens falling around, and the local Jamaican community got upset and the project lost support.
At the end of the day we had a major problem. We ran out of money and found that there were directors' liabilities. As chairman of the charity, I said that we must go into receivership and must protect the relatively small amount of public money that had been put in. I resigned, but the directors who remained were all disqualified from being directors thereafter.
What I am trying to say is that when we are dealing with public money--and 66 per cent of all expenditure is public--the public sector often makes the mistake that it is not a single body but a collection of many bodies, which must obtain the necessary permissions and observe the necessary rules and regulations. One cannot think short-term.
Let us look at what happened. My right honourable friend Michael Heseltine did a remarkable job on inner-city regeneration. But even then there was short-termism. Look at the City airport in Docklands, which very nearly went under. Look at Canary Wharf--the biggest development of its kind--which very nearly went under. Look at Alton Towers, which decided that it would try to take on Battersea power station. That practically killed it. All major projects of this kind need at least 10 years; no profit will be made for five years, and the capital cost has to be written off.
The original proposals for the London Dome were remarkably similar. The project was rejected at the time because of the pollution on the Greenwich site. It was thought that it could be in the Royal Docks. But it was rejected for another reason: it was impossible, without the right infrastructure, to make that kind of project work. At the end of the day, we are not talking merely about a building. The Dome is another venue. We are desperately short of venues in this country. Look at the crap that was around in terms of football stadiums until they were sorted out recently. Look at Wembley. We have fewer facilities than any other country in the OECD. We have always failed to look at the need for the infrastructure that goes with them.
Let us take the simple issue of car parking. One car parking space is needed for each 60 visitors. The Dome would need 3,000 car parking spaces if it were to be a proper venue, accepted internationally and with local planning policy. A project cannot succeed if people cannot get there. I regard the Dome as a remarkable building. It is a brilliant design concept. There is bitching, if I may so describe it--at least, men do not bitch; they do something else--but there is this complaining about each other. We know what happened. This was to be a landmark project on the right site and the design concept was good. The fault lay in the simple fact that no one bothered to work out what would have go inside the Dome in order to make it work. That is the truth. The Dome is not a short-term project--it cannot be. It cannot be made to pay for itself. Incidentally, the subsidy is £102 per person, not £80 as my noble friend Lord Attlee said.
It is a question of what we do. I feel very sorry for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. He has been left as tail-end Charlie--perhaps that is the wrong phrase; I am tail-end Charlie in this debate. It is difficult to find a solution. I should be inclined to write off every single item of expenditure and start again from scratch. It will be a pity if the Dome is turned into a high-tech business park--the idea applied to any building when it does not work. It needs some thought. It needs the infrastructure that goes with such projects. It is an outstanding building, but it is like so many things that we get wrong: we do not think them through.
I declare an interest in relation to the Tate Modern. I am president of the Anglo-Swiss Society. That building was Swiss-designed at the end and it worked extremely well. The bridge is not as good as the bridge in Newcastle. But if we look at some of the engineering projects that we have advanced in this country--whether it be the Severn Bridge, or others--most of them have not been thought through far enough so as to link up all the infrastructure. It is infrastructure and lack of access that kills many such projects.
I wish the Dome project well; and, indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I heard about his success on the Dome in Switzerland, and his role in "Cool Britannia"--which, I gather, is now dead and things are hotting up. The world was waiting and assuming that the Dome would be the symbol of modern Britain. In the end, the outside is; but I do not think that that can be said for the inside of the Dome.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. I have listened to him on many occasions and he is always entertaining. The noble Lord began his speech by asking the rhetorical question as to why there were so many Labour colleagues present in the Chamber sitting behind the Minister. I shall tell him why I am here. Having witnessed the attempt to crucify my noble and learned friend over the past three months at least for matters that he defended excellently tonight, I was determined to be here to show solidarity with him and with what both he and the Government have been trying to do. I believe that he has done that very well.
My noble friend Lord Varley said that there was once a Peer who said, "Everything that can be said has been said, but not by me". I do not intend to go over the ground that has already been covered because I believe that all of the facts have been exposed. But my noble friend also said something with which I completely agree; namely, that the nastiest speech that we heard tonight came from the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. He pleaded in aid the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, had changed. I had the experience--I nearly said "the pleasure"--of being in another place. I can vouch for the fact that the nasty, shabby and shoddy speech given by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is on a par with the speeches that he has made previously both in this Chamber and in another place.
The other speech that I should like to comment upon is that made by my noble friend Lord Puttnam. To me, my noble friend was able to put into a well-prepared case the reason why the Labour Government are proud of what they did. They have learned from the experience. My noble friend painted for me a picture of the practical value of the Dome, as he saw it from his eminent position, to the school children and the communities who have visited it. I have not yet had the pleasure, but I intend to visit the Dome before the year is out.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, used as an analogy the fact that it is costly for people to come from Newcastle upon Tyne, which is my home town, to visit the Dome. Years ago, I did what I suggest not many people did: I travelled from Newcastle to see the 1951 exhibition. Wherever the exhibition was sited, there were bound to be people who were disadvantaged. Of course, the costs are greater now than they were at that time. In 1997, the Government were faced with the decision of whether they wished to mark the millennium. All of the available evidence, and the work that had been carried out prior to them coming into office, led the Government to believe that the right decisions had been made as regards the site, the concept and the vision.
In my view, my noble and learned friend has acknowledged where there have been derelictions and where there have been mistakes. However, at the same time, I believe that he has kept us on the straight and narrow as far as concerns the main issue. Members opposite have been champing at the bit for months to have my noble and learned friend before them to defend his case. They would not wait; indeed, the proper time to do that would have been after the committee in the other place had examined the matter. But, no, they would not wait--and they have not stayed to listen to his response.
I do not wish to enter into the issue of criticism because the House must move on. However, our noble and learned friend the Minister has not only done his best--his very, very good best--for his party and his Government; he has, more importantly, also done his best for the people who will benefit in years to come. Indeed, there was similar criticism in 1951 about the whole concept of the exhibition; for example, there we were in the days of austerity spending much public money on remembering the Great Exhibition in 1851 as something of which we could be proud.
Fifty years after the 1951 exhibition I look across at Festival Hall. I remember visiting the Festival Gardens and the South Bank. As the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, said, it takes a long time for such a project to come to fruition. It discredits the leadership of the party opposite that they should believe that they can manipulate this issue to their credit over the next few months. It is my humble opinion that when the people of this country have all the facts--they do not have all of them yet--and have heard all the debate, they will not only consider that the decision we are discussing was the correct one, but they will also consider that my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer served not only his party and the Government but also his country very well indeed.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I too thank my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer for initiating the debate this evening. It constitutes one step in the long process of the demonstration of his accountability as a Minister. Many noble Lords will be aware of the number of Questions and debates he has replied to on this subject. There have been three debates in this House on the subject, the most recent on 12th July. He was anxious to initiate the debate this evening, which I welcome.
Many positive comments have been made about the Dome. I do not intend to repeat them, as in the debates I mentioned I recognised the regeneration that has taken place in the deprived area of Greenwich where the Dome is located. I hope that the Dome is not pulled down. It is certainly a London landmark whether one flies in or sees it from the road. It stands out like a beacon. It is something to be proud of.
The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, wondered why so many noble Lords were present on this side of the Chamber. I believe that my noble friend Lord Graham answered that point. Many of us who are present this evening have attended not just this debate but have also been present when Questions have been asked and when debates have taken place on the Dome and have attended Select Committee hearings when evidence has been heard on the Dome.
Like others on these Benches, I too wonder why, after the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition and his supporting shadow Ministers in another place made such a song and dance on this issue, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is so poorly supported in terms of numbers on the opposite side of the House. I wonder whether a reason for that is that some noble Lords opposite are more interested in the vote that is taking place at the Carlton Club this evening on whether women should be admitted as members. Perhaps they consider that that has a higher priority than the matter we are discussing.
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