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Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): My hon. Friend sets out a damning indictment of the stewardship of Lord Falconer and of the Secretary of State. However, might not Lord Falconer say that what was really wrong with the dome was the rubbish that was put inside it--the trite content? Is that not entirely the fault of the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland?

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend is entirely correct. The content of the dome is a serious disappointment; it is a bossy mish-mash of reproving statements, improving statements and childish gimmicks. If the content had been half way decent, there would not have been such a problem with visitor numbers.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Does my hon. Friend recollect that the taxpayer had to pay for the visit to the United States of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool so that he could see how the Disneyland attractions were run because he had sole charge of the design of the dome's contents? Did we receive any value for that money? Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman could not run an attraction as well as Mickey Mouse.

Mr. Ainsworth: My right hon. Friend is right. The visit to Disneyland showed clearly the right hon. Gentleman's involvement in the content and his responsibility for its failure.

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Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham): If the content of the dome is so bad, will the hon. Gentleman comment on the fact that 88 per cent. of visitors said that they were very satisfied with their visit and with the content?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman raises a sensitive point. Clearly, if the number of people attending the dome had gone half way towards expectations, the Government would not have this problem now. [Hon. Members: "Answer."] If Labour Members will give me a chance, I will answer. It is not that difficult to have a good day out with the children. One can have a good day out with the children in Hyde park, but it did not cost £400 million or £600 million to develop Hyde park so that people could have a decent time there.

Mr. Paul Clark (Gillingham) rose--

Mr. Ainsworth: I shall not give way just yet.

The Secretary of State's failure to answer my question about whether any of the money will be repaid has been noted by the House. In answer to a question asked by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), the right hon. Gentleman said that he had


Well, £90 million pounds later, we know the value of that assurance.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I have listened to the hon. Gentleman, and I must say that the words "pot" and "kettle" come to mind. Will he consider the comment of the National Audit Office:


On mature reflection, does the hon. Gentleman not think that that might have been the right time at which to pull the plug on this deplorable effort so that we would not incur further enormous liabilities?

Mr. Ainsworth: No. The hon. Gentleman--who, as far as I am aware, has never been responsible for running anything--is talking nonsense. If he is patient, I shall come to the point about who is responsible for the failure of the project.

A little space should be found in the hall of shame for the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting, who is sitting on the Front Bench smiling. In May, she told the House:


In July, when I asked her whether anyone in the Government would apologise, she said:


Her tone was a little different last week when she said:


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Mr. Paul Clark: The hon. Gentleman asks for an apology, but I have yet to hear him refer to the Opposition's record. I want to give him the opportunity to confirm something for the record. Will he confirm that his right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the Leader of the Opposition, was a member of the GEN 36 Committee, the Cabinet Sub-Committee that was involved in the planning, financing and co-ordination of the millennium dome?

Mr. Ainsworth: That was another rather silly point. There is no secret about the fact that the dome project was conceived under the Conservative Government. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] Labour Members think that they have discovered something new, but it is utterly risible to suggest that we are trying to pretend that we had nothing to do with the conception of the project, which none the less suffered a hideous trauma between its conception and its birth under this Government.

Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough): On that point, can the hon. Gentleman name the date by which Conservative Members suddenly thought that the project had become a disaster? Will he also tell the House exactly how much private sector money the previous Government had managed to raise by 1 May 1997?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is clearly unaware that, after the general election in 1997, and throughout 1998, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and I were constantly approached by Ministers, including Lord Falconer, begging for our support for the project. The one thing that I seriously regret is that we did not urge the Government to cancel the project while there was still time to do so--although I doubt very much whether they would have taken our advice.

Everyone knows that the project has been a disaster for at least the past two and a half years. We warned Ministers that it was going wrong, but they did not heed our advice. The Deputy Prime Minister once famously said:


He was unaware that things were going wrong. In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), the right hon. Gentleman said in his inimitable prose:


The Deputy Prime Minister said that midway through the year, when the dome had already received two injections of extra lottery funds. By then it had consumed an additional £139 million.

The Government's attempts to portray the dome as a success have been farcical, but not as farcical as their latest attempts to pin all the blame for everything that

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has gone wrong on the previous Government. Their first reaction to the project's failure was to go into denial. After all, in the words of the Prime Minister, it was to be


After the Prime Minister had said that, the Government knew that they could not allow the dome to fail. But they did allow it to fail and, when all the spin and the hype were overwhelmed by the cold sad truth of squandered money and wasted opportunity, they turned like cornered rats and said that it was all our fault.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Does my hon. Friend agree that it would have had to be a pretty good project to attract people to London from the north-west of England? It would cost families quite a sum of money to make such a visit. I have only spoken to five people from my constituency who have been to the dome. Is it not natural that they should compare the money that has been wasted on the dome with what could have been achieved for schools, education and law and order in the north-west?

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend makes a good point. If the content of the dome had been up to scratch, people would have travelled from far and wide to see it.

Mr. McCabe: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ainsworth: No, I will not. The hon. Gentleman has already had his chance.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will answer the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and tell us whether he will scrap the new opportunities fund, which puts money precisely into health, education and the environment?


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