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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. 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.
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
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.
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:
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?
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?