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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): Excellent progress is being made in delivering new transport infrastructure services that support the public transport objective of the millennium experience project. For example, the first of six new boats for the riverbus services was launched last month and construction work on the new dome pier is on time. The transit link guideway and vehicles that will bring people to the site from Charlton railway station are under construction. Phase 1 of the Jubilee line extension is due to open at the end of April, and phase 2 in the late summer. The on-site coach park is complete. The arrangements for park-and-ride car parks are progressing to plan. The travel industry has confirmed a range of attractive and competitive package offers for travel to and entry to the dome.
Mr. Baker: I am grateful for that comprehensive answer. If the millennium dome is the rip-roaring success that the Government are working hard to achieve, is the Secretary of State confident that the planned infrastructure, when it is all in place, will be sufficient to carry passengers to the dome? Does he accept that the Jubilee line has been given signalling inferior to what was originally planned, and that the line through Charlton station, which is serviced by Connex South Eastern, already operates at 1.8 per cent. above capacity, according to figures released today? What contingency plans exist to deal with a success so fantastic that there are not enough public transport places?
Mr. Smith: We anticipate that the dome will, indeed, be a fantastic success and that at least the 12 million visitors currently expected will wish to visit. We want them all to come by public transport. That is why we have been careful, with our colleagues at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the various operating companies, to ensure that adequate infrastructure is in place.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the news that National Express will offer an all-in package of travel and admissions to the dome? Given that nearly half the
Mr. Smith: Discussions are continuing with a large number of other travel and transport operators to ensure that a comprehensive range of packages is available. The National Express package announced a week and a half ago is but the start.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Will my right hon. Friend consider making tickets to the dome available in the north-west? People must be able to use west coast main line services efficiently and get to the millennium dome on time.
Mr. Smith: The New Millennium Experience Company is conducting detailed discussions with all the train operating companies, including those that handle the north-west main line and its branches. I am confident that announcements will be made shortly about any conclusions that are reached.
The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson): The New Millennium Experience Company is currently developing plans for the opening celebrations of the dome on 31 December this year in discussion with Government and others, including the Lambeth group. The nature and scope of the celebrations will be announced in due course.
Mr. Gray: I am glad that we still have time to make representations to the Minister. Will she take this opportunity to acknowledge that 2000 and the millennium mean only one thing: the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ? Will she find a way of ensuring that there is a moment for quiet Christian reflection in the dome during the opening ceremony on 31 December, led by leading clergy from the Roman Catholic, Church of England and non-conformist Churches?
Janet Anderson: I assure the hon. Gentleman that we recognise the significance of the millennium as a Christian anniversary, and discussions are continuing to decide how that will be reflected on the opening night. We hope to make an announcement in due course.
Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): Does my hon. Friend agree that, as many people will travel to the millennium dome next year, it will provide an ideal opportunity not just for Christian worship and for displaying Christian beliefs but to present the many religious faiths that exist in this country? That will be an important experience for communities that are overwhelmingly of one faith and may not have knowledge of the range of faiths in the United Kingdom.
Janet Anderson: As I said earlier, discussions are continuing. We are seeking to ensure that those who want to be involved are part of the opening celebrations. We will make an announcement about the matter as soon as possible.
The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson): The New Millennium Experience Company has worked hard in partnership with the Lambeth group to ensure that the multi-faith nature of the United Kingdom is reflected sensitively in the dome. The zone that will provide the focus for faith issues will encourage visitors to explore moments in human experience. The architecture of the zone will evoke the idea that it is a stopping place on people's spiritual journeys--whatever their faith. The NMEC is also providing a separate quiet space that will be available for private prayer and meditation by all faiths, and space has been made available for the performance of daily prayers by Muslims, which will be funded by that community.
Mr. Vaz: I congratulate my noble Friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton on the work that he has done to ensure that the Lambeth group truly represents all faiths in Britain. Will the Minister assure the House that the celebrations will not be hijacked by the Archbishop of Canterbury? We must recognise that many faiths in Britain wish to be represented in the dome and present at the ceremony. Will the Minister give a further assurance that other faiths and other races will be invited to the dome to make it and the opening celebrations truly representative of the diverse nature of Britain in 1999?
Janet Anderson: I thank my hon. Friend for his support for our attempts to ensure that all faiths are properly represented. [Interruption.] I point out to the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) that we are trying to give as detailed a response as possible. I am sorry that he is taking the trouble to denigrate that; he should welcome what we have said.
As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), we are doing our best to ensure that all faiths are involved and will make an announcement on the matter as soon as possible.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot):
Does not the Minister understand that she cannot have it both ways? If she accedes to the request of her hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) that faiths other than Christianity should be well represented in this millennium experience, that must, to some extent, be at the expense of what the festival is all about. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) said, the festival
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman was not listening earlier, so I repeat that we do recognise the Christian significance and importance of this event, but I am extremely sorry that he should imply that we should exclude large sections of our population who follow different faiths. The Government's intention is try to include everyone; I am sorry that that is not the Opposition's position.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Does not the Minister understand that she cannot have it both ways? If she accedes to the request of her hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) that faiths other than Christianity should be well represented in this millennium experience, that must, to some extent, be at the expense of what the festival is all about. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) said, the festival
Janet Anderson: Obviously, the hon. Gentleman was not listening earlier, so I repeat that we do recognise the Christian significance and importance of this event, but I am extremely sorry that he should imply that we should exclude large sections of our population who follow different faiths. The Government's intention is try to include everyone; I am sorry that that is not the Opposition's position.