|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Gale: The right hon. Gentleman is courteous as always. He chided us for making party political points, and since then has done nothing but make party political points. Does he realise that some Conservative Members believed passionately that the regeneration of Greenwich was a good idea? They believed that to put the dome, as a fine building, as close as possible to the meridian line was the right idea, and that the concept of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley), and others was right. It is because of that and because we had a sense of national pride that we now feel a burning sense of national shame and anger at having been let down by what went into the dome, by its mismanagement and by the fact that people have been unable to get to it.
Mr. Kaufman: I do not know of any national sense of burning shame and anger. As the right hon. Member for Henley said, people criticise the large sums of lottery money that are spent on the dome, but the Conservative party decided to do that. People say, "That money should have gone to the national health service and schools," but that was not the view of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) nor is it the view of the Conservative party today. It does not advocate spending money on the national health service or education, but simply wants more of the same--spending on the five sectors that were decided on by the Conservative Government and championed by the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey.
I hope that the Government will revise the categories, and I believe that there is a good argument for spending large sums of lottery money on the NHS, education and other core services. However, the Conservative party, not the Labour party, decided on the additionality principle, although it will get angry with us if we do not continue that approach.
Mr. Fraser: I, too, sit on the Select Committee. During the production of our report, which was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, there were several departures, in particular by Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Stephen Bayley and Eric Sorensen. What is the right hon. Gentleman's opinion of that? At that time, the general public felt no confidence in the project. That should be coupled with the opinions that my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley put to the Select Committee. He said:
Interestingly, despite all the electorate's feelings of burning anger and all the rest of it, building the dome was right, even though, given the chance, I believe that they would have said, "No, let's build some hospitals and new schools." The regeneration of Greenwich is an extraordinary achievement, and would not otherwise have occurred. As the right hon. Member for Henley said, it was one of the most polluted areas in Europe, but it is now proud and regenerated, and thousands of new jobs have been created.
It is a pity that even the Conservative party should conduct itself in this way, but, on the whole, I do not particularly mind. When the Labour party suffered a blip in the polls a couple of months ago, there appeared to be a possibility of the Conservative party winning the next election. However, the electorate's sheer revulsion at the prospect led to the Labour Government's return to popularity. I say to the Conservative party, "Go on like this, please, I beg of you." I have increased my majority at every general election since 1970 and, with the help of the Conservatives, I shall do so again.
Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): It is odd, given that the Conservative party called this Opposition day debate, that more Liberal Democrats than Conservatives have been present throughout. It seems that the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) is not shared by colleagues who are not giving him the proper support from behind.
Before the typically interesting speech of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), we heard a rather predictable exchange between those on the two Front Benches. We heard from the Conservative side that everything was the fault of the present Government--that the Dome had been left in pristine condition in 1997, and that everything had gone terribly wrong since then. We then heard from the Labour side that it had been a disaster from the start--that in 1997 it had been impossible to save it from its present fate, and that it was all the fault of the Conservatives. Finally, there was the "let's hug each other" arrangement, whereby the parties agree to blame one another and say that that is a bipartisan approach. This is a very interesting lesson in politics.
I think I can safely say with hand on heart that we have not been part of the "bipartisan approach". We are not represented by any MPs on the Millennium Commission, although it contains two Ministers and an Opposition Member, and we have not been involved in discussions in that context across the Chamber. It is, in a way, interesting to sit here on the sidelines listening to Conservative and Labour Members blaming each other for the Dome. Our amendment points out that it is not all the fault of either Labour or the Conservatives--that there are faults on both
It is true--it is clear from the National Audit Office report--that there were serious faults in the way that the whole dome project was established. There were faults in terms of assessment of visitor numbers, for instance. I heard the comments of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman); but, according to the NAO report, visitor numbers were assessed without reference to the contents, without reference to the prices, and without reference to the marketing strategy. That does not strike me as a very sensible way of proceeding. There is also the highly complex management structure referred to in the NAO report. That was set up by the Conservatives, but inherited and continued by the present Government.
There was also what could be described as a culture of secrecy, which has not been mentioned so far. Members of Parliament were unable to obtain information, especially when the then Minister without Portfolio was in charge of the project. I am sorry that he has not seen fit to grace the House with his presence, unlike the right hon. Member for Henley, the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley)--a previous Secretary of State--and others on both sides of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has been the one absentee. It is a pity that he has not turned up to give his views--but then he was never very keen on coming to the House for that purpose. He had to be dragged here kicking and screaming for a five-minute session, after the House had been sitting in the present Parliament for six or nine months. He does not treat the House with much respect in regard to these matters.
Let me concentrate on the good points--for there are good points, which have been mentioned by Members on both sides of the House. First, we should admit that many people have enjoyed themselves. Secondly, there has been a much-needed regeneration of Greenwich. It must be said, however, that that objective did not seem to rate particularly highly until recently. It has now been dragged out as something that was always there in the beginning, but has somehow moved to centre stage as other, unsuccessful objectives have fallen.
The millennium dome has good staff, and I feel sorry for them. They have been let down by the dome's management, and by Ministers in both this and the previous Government. The structure of the dome is a wonderful architectural achievement, and I hope very much that it is saved. I agree with the right hon. Member for Henley about that. It would be a pity if it were not saved, because I do not think the structure is at fault. No one seems to have criticised the structure, although there has been criticism of the contents, the management and everything else. Although many people want to erase the dome from their memories as a bad dream, the structure should not be erased.
Last week or the week before, I asked the Secretary of State whether he would list the dome, because I thought that that was a way of securing its future as a building. He declined to do so, which gives the nod to the possibility, at least, that it will be demolished, which would be a pity.