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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, that is the effect of the criticisms made by the noble Lord. If the noble Lord thought through a little more what he was saying, as the noble Baroness should have thought through a little more what she was saying, that is the inevitable consequence. I believe that on 27th July I answered questions entirely honestly and honourably. I was wrong, as I made clear because of what was disclosed in the report made by PricewaterhouseCooper.
I believe that I have dealt with the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sharman. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark congratulated us on the boldness of the vision and hoped that it would be taken through into the future as regards regeneration and jobs for the people of Greenwich. I agree with that sentiment. It would be wrong to impose specific conditions, but one of the factors applied in the competition for judging who is to take over the Dome has always been what the regenerative benefits will be.
I have mentioned the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. In his speech the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred to hubris. I would not accept that word as being right. I believe that there was real enthusiasm on both sides of the House for a project that we believed we could make work and would bring benefit to that part of London. I do not believe that that is hubris but a perfectly reasonable ambition for both sides of the House to hold.
I do not need to respond to the specific points of the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, referred to the infrastructure and the excellent access for older and disabled people. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, heard her remarks that there is very easy access for both elderly people and those who do not find it easy to get around.
The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, referred to the TUC's support for the Dome. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who is in her place, referred to the fact that it is very difficult to budget accurately as regards putting on entertainments. Our budget has been exceeded--on the basis that every single penny of the existing grant from the Millennium Commission is used--by 4.6 per cent. It is regrettable that it has been exceeded at all, but I believe that noble Lords should put that in perspective.
The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, described it as public money. It is lottery money, but the point is exactly the same. He was absolutely right to emphasise that, because so much lottery money is required, it is important that there should be proper scrutiny. He is right when he said that people are angry about the lottery money, particularly the extra money which has been spent during the course of this year. He said that proper accounts had not been kept. With respect to the noble Lord, that is a totally inaccurate account of the
The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, referred to the fact that the estimate of visitor numbers before 1997 had been all over the place and that the Tories wished to wash their hands of the project. He also made a point about Birmingham, but that is a debate I do not want to become involved in at this moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, referred to the fact that the contents were not known. Much has been said about the contents during the course of the debate. The best judges of the contents are the people who have been there. Between 5 million and 6 million people will have visited the Dome by the time the project ends. Independent opinion polls have been carried out and they show that the satisfaction level as regards the contents is very, very high. Noble Lords who go there will find that for the most part it is a very enjoyable experience. Indeed, I very much hope that before the end of the year I shall be able to arrange one more trip for noble Lords of all parties to visit the Dome before it closes on 31st December. No whip round will be required.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, made a very powerful speech which resonated around the House. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, was involved in the London v. Birmingham debate. I do not wish to become involved in it.
The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, referred to a number of specific points. He mentioned the letter of 14th July. That letter said that the finances had deteriorated, and that is absolutely right. Indeed, I was very aware of the position at that particular time. Noble Lords will recall that an application was then made to the Millennium Commission and a grant was given to cover the position as regards the deteriorating finances. The noble Lord also referred to marketing. He is right again in saying that there are problems there. They were identified by the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, in his speech and by the National Audit Office.
The marketing strategy was obviously wrong. The difficulty was that everyone involved did not have much experience of marketing domes. Even when an experienced visitor attraction manager was brought in, the marketing process was difficult to get right. That is perhaps not surprising. It is a unique, innovative project which has gone through an experience in the press that very few projects go through.
The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, made a powerful speech, which resonated around the House, about the role and commitment of big business. She asked about IMG. Questions have been answered in the past in regard to IMG and the extent to which it brought in sponsorship. A confidential settlement was
The noble Baroness asked what will happen to the exhibits. Some are owned by sponsors--for example, the talk zone is owned by British Telecom and the journey zone is owned by Ford--some are owned by third parties and some are owned by NMEC. I hope that proper homes will be found for them. The faith zone, for example, is a serious contributor to spiritual matters and I hope that a permanent home can be found for it outside the Dome.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, picked up points in the NAO report about contingency planning, which I agree is very important. She seemed to be criticising the actions of the directors during the period between 22nd August and 6th September. That is totally unjustified by the terms of the NAO report. Indeed, the view that has been taken is that the directors were obliged to act in the way that they did between those two dates.
The noble Lord, Lord Varley, gave an impressive political speech, which indicated the strong and powerful position in which we find ourselves. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, was one of those who enjoyed the Black Adder films--on which I congratulate him. The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, emphasised the regenerative point.
The noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, spoke about the future. The position at the moment is that Legacy plc is the preferred bidder. There is a way to go before contracts are signed. There are a significant number of issues on which the Government have to be satisfied before they enter into the contract. No decision has yet been made as to the split in the proceeds between English Partnerships and NMEC. The advice that the Government received from the competition team was that they could appoint Legacy plc preferred bidder within the rules of the competition, which is the appropriate course to take. Ultimately a decision will have to be taken by the Government as to whether or not a contract should be exchanged. They will do so in accordance with the rules of the competition and the criteria set out therein.
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, was informative and amusing. He described the project as a landmark project. He spoke favourably about the Dome building and his hope that it will stay there for a considerable time. I express my profound gratitude for the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Graham.
The noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, made a significant contribution in relation to the press, particularly drawing attention to the fact that the report shows that every time there is a bad press about the Dome, visitor numbers fall between 30 per cent and 50 per cent in the following week. She also emphasised the point about the long-term future of the Dome and the fact that it will lever into the peninsula a large amount of private money. I think all noble Lords will agree that that is worthwhile.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield hoped that there would be joined-up thinking between the new owners of the Dome and those who are presently involved in historic Greenwich. One of the criteria in the competition is the recognition of the Dome as an important architectural site. Again, it would be wrong to impose specific conditions, but I entirely endorse the sentiment expressed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made a sensible and constructive speech about the lessons that could be learnt. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, made specific criticisms in relation to, as she put it, "secrecy". That is unfair and untrue. I have always answered questions fully and openly in this House. The particulars given by the noble Baroness did not for one moment support such allegations.
The Dome has been a troubled project. Mistakes have been made. The NAO report is a worthwhile report from which many lessons can be learnt. Speaking entirely for myself, the Dome is a project that has had many difficulties, but it has also brought many, many gains which can still be won if we support it as a worthwhile project which has done good rather than bad.