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Mr. Baker: I appreciate that that is normally the position, but the Culture Secretary could, if he wished, list the millennium dome, although he chose not to do so. Given the fact that the land is worth more without the dome than it is with it, it is possible that the dome will disappear, especially if the discussions with Legacy do not reach a satisfactory conclusion later this week. However, the tube station is a fantastic achievement, which no one has mentioned tonight. The Culture Secretary referred to the lessons that had been learned, which will be helpful in future. I agree that we can lay blame in different quarters, which I do as much as anyone else. However, we all need to learn lessons, and there are lessons to be learned, as the NAO report clearly set out.
It is a little hypocritical of Conservative Members to say that it is all the Labour Government's fault and that everything is terribly wrong. Presumably, had Conservative Members still been in power, everything would have been all right--at least that is the implication of what they have been saying in the press. The hon. Member for Watford (Ms Ward) told the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport:
For goodness' sake, when the Labour Government came in, several Cabinet Ministers were sceptical about the scheme. They had a review, and, given the poor management structure, the ambitious visitor targets and the culture of secrecy, I fail to understand why they did not conclude, calmly and logically, that it was not sensible to proceed.
Mr. Efford: Visitor numbers were revised on several occasions before 1997, but not once did visitor projections go down below 10 million. The scheme proceeded on that basis, and, in that respect, everyone has been consistent in their approach to the dome.
Mr. Baker: I am happy to accept that visitor numbers were adjusted before the election, as others have said. However, the adjustment of visitor numbers appeared to take place in a vacuum, without the benefit of knowing what was in the dome, without a proper marketing strategy and without a clear indication of what the prices would be. One cannot set visitor numbers without a decision on such matters.
I'm against. Public money and lottery money are indistinguishable in the public mind.
Lord Falconer has been mentioned briefly. There have been persistent calls from a number of sources for his resignation. I do not believe that he is the only person who has made mistakes on the project, but he certainly has made mistakes. Even from the point that he took over, serious mistakes have been made with the dome. For example, a bewildering succession of people have been in charge of the dome, even in the past 12 months. They seem to come and go; we cannot keep up with it.
There has been a bewildering succession of pleas for more money for the dome, most of them in the parliamentary recess, when it was impossible for Members of Parliament to hold the Government to account. One of the pleas was made in August, immediately after the House went into recess, when I am sure that information was known.
It is equally the case that, going back to the history of the current Parliament--I can speak from personal experience only about this Parliament; obviously, I was not in the previous Parliament--we were sceptical as a
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): Critics of the dome are sometimes accused of exercising hindsight, but in June 1997 the Millennium Commission staff produced a written appraisal of the company's business plan. They expressed concern then that
Mr. Baker: I entirely agree with that intervention. The hon. Lady has been clear about her views from the beginning. It is a pity that members of the Government did not listen to her, too, rather than just shrugging off any criticism of the dome from Members on both sides of the House, saying that they were being disloyal to the dome. Lord Falconer therefore has some responsibility for this year's events. He has criticisms to answer about financial management.
There is another matter to be addressed. There is a tradition in British politics that people take responsibility for something that goes horribly wrong. With the best will in the world--I am sure people have the best intentions--this has gone horribly wrong. There is no point denying that.
Of course, the visitor numbers are there, but let us look at the cost: £628 million of lottery money--what a cost. The public in my constituency and elsewhere are appalled at the amount of money that has been spent on the dome. Irrespective of whether they think its contents are good, they are appalled at the amount of money that has been spent. They feel that it has been mismanaged.
There have been continual claims for more and more money. The management has changed constantly. It is inconceivable that there can be mismanagement on such a scale and that no Minister is prepared to take responsibility for it.