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The Minister was asked--


35. Mr. Baker: If he will assess the possibility of creating a worthwhile millennium dome project at a significantly lower cost. [27619]

Mr. Mandelson: The Government undertook a thorough review of the project immediately after the election. That concluded that it was not possible to create such a unique, once-in-a-lifetime project at lower cost. Only half the cost is being met from lottery money, and the cost includes the national programme, which will start a year in advance of the opening of the dome.

Mr. Baker: Can the Minister explain why the millennium project is costing £758 million, when the former creative director, Stephen Bayley, said that something stunning could be created for £100 million?

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Mr. Mandelson: I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that I do not think that Mr. Bayley's advice on that aspect is any better than he was qualified to offer on any other aspect of the millennium dome, which is why he is not still with us.

Mr. Mackinlay: Will the Minister reflect on the fact that there is growing unease among the constituents of many hon. Members that the millennium dome might become a monument to Mammon, and that we might lose sight of the fact that part of the purpose of the millennium is--coincidentally, it would seem--to celebrate the

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2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ? Should there not be some reflection of that in all the celebrations, and particularly in the millennium dome?

Mr. Mandelson: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The millennium project is not a monument to Mammon. It is an opportunity for people to take stock, to pause and to reflect on the nature of our society in all its dimensions--spiritual as well as any other--and to consider what sort of country and society we want to live in as we enter the new century and the new millennium. In that sense the project will be inspiring and challenging, as well as enormous fun.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister without Portfolio mentioned previously that he proposed to make an announcement--on Tuesday next week, I think--about the contents of the millennium dome. The matter was raised with you last week. Have you received any indication from Ministers whether the House will be the first to know what the contents of that great project will be, or whether that will be announced in a press conference or unveiling outside? Given the huge amounts of public money, whether taxpayers' or lottery money, to be spent on it, I am sure that you would agree that the House should hear first.

Madam Speaker: I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the response that I gave to the point of order last Thursday. The answer to his second question is no, I have not heard that a Minister is prepared to make a statement next week, but I am told that on the morning of the day that a statement is to be made.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is not a criticism of you, but that was the first time that we have had 10 minutes of questions to the Minister without Portfolio. Those of us who strongly support the millennium dome and project feel that very few of the hon. Members who were called for questions and supplementaries take our view, which is the overwhelming view of both sides of the House. We feel that we are not getting our fair share of the 10 minutes at Question Time.

Madam Speaker: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should put the point to the President of the Council on Thursday, so that we get even more time with the Minister without Portfolio.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be aware that several hon. Members attended the House in the hope of raising questions specifically related to questions on the Order Paper and were frustrated from doing so by the absence of hon. Members whose questions were on the Order Paper--in my own case, relating to lottery distribution in East Anglia. Can you offer us some protection or assistance in that respect, to ensure that we can raise questions when questions are on the Order Paper and are not withdrawn beforehand?

Madam Speaker: I can do nothing about questions that are withdrawn, but I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman tabled a question about East Anglia. Is that the point that he is making? [Interruption.] Hon. Members should table questions to get the answers that they require, and not rely

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on the substantive questions of other hon. Members. I am not prepared to go on calling supplementary questions so that hon. Members can come into the House and latch on to the substantive questions of other hon. Members. They must take the initiative themselves. I thought that I had made that clear last week.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On Friday 13 February, in column 740 of Hansard, I referred to a question that the Foreign Secretary had answered earlier in the week. It reads:

That question was not replied to in the Adjournment debate--which is not a matter for the House on a point of order. However, on Sunday's "The World at One" programme from Chatham House, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, appeared to give the impression--it is difficult to follow his exact words--that no such watertight undertaking had been given.

Have you, Madam Speaker, had any requests from the Foreign Office to clarify that crucial question? Have you received any requests from the Foreign Office to put an explanation in the Library before tomorrow's debate of the legal reply to Mr. Marc Weller from the centre for international studies at Cambridge and other international lawyers who challenge the legal validity in international law of the proposed military action against Iraq?

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman will appreciate and understand that I have no responsibility for outside broadcasts or for what is said in those broadcasts. In answer to the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's point of order, I have received no indications from Ministers about a statement to be made today or tomorrow, or what they might say in the course of the debate tomorrow. It will be for the hon. Gentleman and others who are interested to press the points that he has just made. Those on the Treasury Bench have heard his comments and may relay them to Ministers at the Foreign Office.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you allow me simply to defend those who were unable to attend Question Time today? You may not be aware that many hon. Members are stuck on British Rail trains and cannot get into London in time to attend Question Time. Many Members from the north of England, including me, have missed Question Times because of Railtrack and the rail operators.

Madam Speaker: I do not want this to be a debate between the hon. Gentleman and myself, but there are telephones on railway stations and on trains. Many hon. Members withdraw their questions at the last moment because they are in exactly that position.

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Orders of the Day

Human Rights Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.--[Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

Madam Speaker: I should inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.37 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Three hundred and nine years ago, Parliament enacted the 1689 Bill of Rights. That Bill delineated the relationship between Parliament, the Crown and the courts. It was a foundation stone of representative government, curbing unelected power and establishing a constitutional monarchy. One reflection of that is in the mutual respect shown by Her Majesty and the House. So I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Human Rights Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

This is the first major Bill on human rights for more than 300 years. It will strengthen representative and democratic government. It does so by enabling citizens to challenge more easily actions of the state if they fail to match the standards set by the European convention. The Bill will thus create a new and better relationship between the Government and the people.

Nothing in the Bill will take away the freedoms that our citizens already enjoy. However, those freedoms alone are not enough: they need to be complemented by positive rights that individuals can assert when they believe that they have been treated unfairly by the state, or that the state and its institutions have failed properly to protect them. The Bill will guarantee to everyone the means to enforce a set of basic civil and political rights, establishing a floor below which standards will not be allowed to fall. The Bill will achieve that by giving further effect in our domestic law to the fundamental rights and freedoms contained in the European convention on human rights.

The convention is a treaty of the Council of Europe, now a body of some 40 countries. The Council was established at the end of the second world war as part of the allies' programme to reconstruct civilisation on the mainland of Europe. The United Kingdom was a prime mover in the convention and played a major and dignified part in its drafting. One of its draftsmen, David Maxwell Fyfe, later became, as Lord Kilmuir, a distinguished Lord Chancellor in the Conservative Government from 1954 to 1962. The United Kingdom was also among the first countries to sign the convention, which we did on the first available day. We were the first to ratify it, in March 1951.

The United Kingdom's international commitment to the convention has continued ever since. In 1966, we accepted the right of individuals to bring cases against the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has also set a

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good example in responding to any adverse findings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. For nearly 50 years, there has been broad political support for what the convention does and what it stands for, with a fundamental recognition that, in practice, decisions of the Strasbourg court must be implemented.

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