|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am genuinely grateful to the Minister for that clarification. Can the Minister also reassure me that Legacy's bid at least matches what could be achieved if the site were clear and disposed of for ordinary commercial development?
My observations throughout have been aimed solely at what is expected to be Ministers' accountability and clarity in presenting what they do on behalf of the public. At the beginning of the evening the Minister, uncharacteristically, referred to two of my right honourable friends and myself, as a Member of the Opposition Front Bench, as being dishonourable. I take the word "dishonour" very seriously, and I shall remember it. I have made mistakes, and one of them is to believe the honour of this Minister.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. We have had a good debate, and I believe that we have learnt a lot from it. Perhaps I may draw together a number of the strands. First, a large number of noble Lords have taken part in the debate on the Dome, and for the first time in such a debate not one
Secondly, everybody was united in the desire to achieve regeneration of the London Borough of Greenwich and to ensure that there was a proper legacy from the Dome in future. Equally, I believe that everyone in this House paid attention to the speech of my noble friend Lady Gibson, who made specific reference to the voice of Greenwich and what it wanted in relation to the future of the Dome.
Thirdly, everybody appeared to accept that there might be in excess of 5 million visitors to the Dome and that the vast majority who visited it enjoyed their time there. That was not a matter which subsequently appeared to be in dispute.
Therefore, I think we can all agree that there are quite a number of pluses. There was also a genuine consensus that the blame culture, to which my noble friend Lord Puttnam and the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, referred in very powerful speeches, is a debilitating and negative aspect of matters. The fact that one has a no-blame culture does not mean that one should not look to learn lessons from what has happened. It is worth pointing out that everyone was impressed that the Dome was delivered on time as a capital project. The then chief executive, Jennie Page, said that the reason for that was because there was a no-blame culture down at the Dome in the course of the building of that great capital project. Everyone should be proud that we delivered it on time on 31st December 1999.
We have to learn lessons from it. We do not criticise the Conservative Party for supporting the Dome; trying to work out how many people would come; making arrangements for it to happen; and setting up a Cabinet sub-committee to look at the project. We do not criticise them for that because we, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has identified, reviewed and adopted the project and accepted the figure of 12 million. We made a mistake in so doing. Our difficulty is that the Conservatives now turn around, in what appears on the face of it to be opportunistic politics, and criticise the scheme. That is where the difficulty arises.
The noble Lord, Lord Sharman, asked what was the cost of cancellation at the time when we decided to go ahead with the project. The figure was about £50 million. We were aware of the figures because we had looked at them. They obviously were a factor in our decision, but they were not the major factor in deciding to go ahead.
There are many lessons to be learnt from the project. First, one has to have better risk management; secondly, one has to have better assessments of how many visitors there may be; thirdly, one needs to make provision for contingencies; fourthly, even though it will not be a private sector project, one has to see whether, in effect, one will be competing as a private sector project. One has to recognise that expertise is
Perhaps I may go through the major points raised by individuals in their speeches. First, I turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I am sorry that the Cardiff opera house was not financed by the Millennium Commission. I do not think that Miss Jennie Page was necessarily to blame for that, as he suggested. I am told that there were flaws in the business plan. The Millennium Commission were keen to help in relation to it, but the flaws could not be put right despite the suggestions made by the Millennium Commission. That is why it did not go ahead.
The noble Lord made the following criticisms. First, he pointed out that I attended a significant number of board meetings. Yes, I did. He failed to point out that the NAO made it clear that I started to attend board meetings in August 1999 when, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, rightly points out, the first financial difficulties began to arise. This body is not like many non-departmental public bodies which have an unlimited life, it is one with a limited life, where what was happening was very important and quick. Therefore, I needed to know what was going on. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to discover what was going on by attending board meetings.
The noble Lord then pointed out that the 12 million visitor figure was obviously and utterly wrong right from the beginning. He made a powerful and impassioned speech to indicate that it must have been obvious to everyone that it was wrong. Regrettably it was not obvious to everyone that it was wrong. There were a large number of experts who told us that it was right. My noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington may be right when he said that one should not pay so much attention to experts. There were many people who were not as clever as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and did not spot the error at the time. We made the mistake of believing them. If only the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, had made his views known so clearly at the time, it would have been of great assistance to the nation.
The noble Lord also referred to the letter dated 7th February 2000 which was sent to me by my right honourable friend Mr Chris Smith. That letter rightly pointed out that the corporate governance had to be improved. Indeed, the Millennium Commission had made it a condition of its grant at that time that corporate governance should be improved. On 12th April, after I had had considerable discussions with my right honourable friend and after he had discussed the matter with the chairman of the company, the Millennium Commission was then satisfied that the condition had been satisfied and it released the balance of its grant. I am slightly surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell,did not mention that point in his forensic account of what the NAO said.
The noble Lord then referred to the position in July. He rightly referred to the fact that I had received a letter on 14th July 2000 saying that the financial position was deteriorating and yet in the House on 27th July I said that the company was solvent on 17th July, a point also made with vigour by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. Every one of those points is absolutely true. The reason I thought the company was solvent was that that is what the board of directors thought the position was--a board of directors that contained such honourable and eminent men as Sir Brian Jenkins, Len Duvall and David Quarmby; honourable men advised by, as the noble Baroness pointed out, City solicitors and assisted by accountants put in by the Millennium Commission. I was wrong about that, but I would have regarded it as irresponsible to have said at that stage that the company was insolvent when all the people involved in the day-to-day management believed it to be solvent. They were wrong; and they were wrong because there were a number of wind-down liabilities that had not been taken into account which were identified by PricewaterhouseCoopers in its report which was sent to the board at the end of August. I was shocked when I discovered that, because no one knew about those liabilities.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I want only to make the point that at Question Time in July I did not ask about the solvency of the company. It was not an issue that I pursued. I questioned the noble and learned Lord about his expressions of confidence that the project would be completed within budget at a time when the company was publishing its annual report setting out very properly the considerable risk as to why that would not be achieved. That was the question I put to him. That was the matter about which I wrote him a letter, to which he replied two months later without giving me an answer.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as to whether the project would deliver within budget, the noble Lord will recall that the budget at that time was £758 million. The question of whether it would deliver within budget is one of whether it would deliver spending only those costs; it is not one of dealing with what was the source of those costs. The noble Lord will recall that the report and accounts specifically identified that an application might have to be made to the Millennium Commission in order for it to deliver within budget.
With respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and to the noble Lord, the criticisms that have been made are completely unfounded. They are as much an attack on the board as they are on me. They are completely without foundation.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page