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Mr. Greenway indicated dissent.

Mr. Efford: Without the millennium dome, none of it would have been possible, which is the fact that the hon. Gentleman must recognise and cannot get away from. Without the investment generated by the project, none of that would have been possible.

Mr. Greenway indicated dissent.

Mr. Efford: I have just explained all that, and I am sorry that I do not have the time to repeat it all so that the hon. Gentleman may understand it.

I am not surprised that the Conservatives do not care one jot about the jobs that have been created, nor that the people who work at the dome might have profited from some continuity of employment had it not been for the fact that the scheme has been so undermined that the future of the dome is in doubt. However, that is the reality that we face.

There have been 5.4 million visitors to the dome; it is the second most popular paying attraction in Europe. We should not decry the scheme; we should celebrate it. Disney did not achieve that when EuroDisney opened--that theme park was a disaster and had to be relaunched. The dome is a remarkable achievement; that should be acknowledged on both sides of the House and we should all celebrate it.

9.40 pm

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Once again, the Opposition have given the House the opportunity to debate the dome. It is clear that Members on both sides of the House hold strong views on the subject. Those Members with a constituency interest have rightly voiced their concern on behalf of their constituents.

Our motion reflects the fact that the debate on the dome needs to move on from the sterile arguments about whether it should have been built. We believe that it was right to build the dome. The hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick) rightly pointed out that it is a fine engineering achievement. We agree.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) explained why the dome was built at Greenwich. The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) has rightly put a constituency point of view as to what was achieved there; we, too, support regeneration in Greenwich.

However, Parliament's concern should be the issues raised by the National Audit Office report, which we outline in our motion. It is clear that some right hon. and hon. Members have not read the motion, which cites the

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financial mismanagement of the New Millennium Experience Company. The dome has not been a financial success. Why has an additional £229 million of public money been wasted? Above all, why is no Minister willing to accept responsibility and take the honourable course and apologise--or, better still, resign?

Of course, it suits the Government to blame someone else, but the facts show clearly that the blame for mismanagement rests fairly and squarely with them. Before the election, the Millennium Commission--not the GEN 36 Committee, as some right hon. and hon. Members suggested--had agreed to build a dome at Greenwich with lottery funding. The Labour shadow Cabinet supported that view, conditional on a review of the decision if they won the general election.

Everyone knows that the review took place in June 1997 and that the Prime Minister not only backed the dome--overruling most of his Cabinet, we gather--but took credit for re-launching the project. The press release makes it clear: "Blair rescues millennium dome". The way in which the Prime Minister responded to concerns about the future of the dome and dealt with most of his Cabinet does not leave much doubt as to his claim to ownership of the project.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) says that the project should have been non-partisan. However, he must answer the question: why did the Prime Minister try to claim the project for himself and new Labour? The right hon. Member for Gorton referred to Disneyland in Paris. Yes, that project was a flop initially, but it did not receive £600 million of public money.

Those who try to blame the Conservatives--as the Liberal Democrats appear to do--are saying, in effect, that the dome was bound to fail from the start. That is the politics of despair. Clearly, the Prime Minister did not agree; on the contrary, he wanted to claim the credit for a successful dome. Nor did the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; when he appeared before the Select Committee, he would not even countenance the idea that there could be fewer than 12 million visitors. Furthermore, the sponsors did not think that the project would fail. More important, paragraph 16 on page 4 of the National Audit Office report points out:

All those crucial matters were decided by this Government.

More crucially, the original vision for the exhibition was drastically altered. Indeed, the Prime Minister's press statement said:

It added:

There we have it--the Prime Minister wanted the concept of the dome to be changed. When Labour Members seek to discover why there was mismanagement, they must face the fact that it was their Government who changed matters considerably. The scale and detail of the mismanagement is there for all to see in the NAO report.

On the key issue of visitor numbers, Ministers must explain why a 12-million visitor target was adopted when they inherited a target of only 10 million from

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the Millennium Commission. Indeed, the commission subsequently recommended that only 8 million was a feasible target.

Visitor numbers were inextricably linked with the exhibition's likely content and how that could be marketed. Ministers constantly interfered in the content, so they must shoulder responsibility.

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

Mr. Greenway: I will not give way, because there is no time.

Ministers must shoulder responsibility for the NAO's finding that the dome's content had not been sufficiently explained or promoted. The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) said that the public had not been inspired. There was no marketable coherent vision beyond the Prime Minister's constant rhetoric about cool Britannia. The public simply did not know what the dome was for, and £20 a time, plus all the travelling costs, was perceived to be too high a price for such an uncertain experience. The travel arrangements also acted as a disincentive. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley acknowledged, it was a mistake not to provide a car park or even a drop-off and pick-up facility.

All the problems arose as the direct consequence of decisions taken by Ministers and NMEC. They led directly to the financial crisis that overcame the dome in the first few weeks after it opened for visitors. The scale of the mismanagement was quickly picked up by the Secretary of State in his now famous letter to Lord Falconer in February, when he complained about a lack of leadership and serious failures of financial management, and concluded that the company was already technically insolvent.

Earlier in the debate, the Secretary of State said that P-Y Gerbeau was wrong. We take that to mean that the dome was insolvent, so ministerial statements were inaccurate and Parliament was misled, however inadvertently. The record needs to be corrected. The dome has never recovered from the financial crisis caused by the clear failures of management. As a result, and to save face, more and more public money has been poured into the project. Ministers have still not explained why more than £200 million was wasted in that way.

The board clearly knew that the game was up because, as early as May, it sought and was granted financial indemnities. The Millennium Commission's accounting office twice sought a ministerial direction to pay grants that he could not justify on value-for-money grounds. When, on 22 August, PricewaterhouseCoopers declared the company insolvent--a fact that must have been obvious to NMEC directors--the Secretary of State and the shareholder, Lord Falconer, must have known months before that that was the case. Yet no apology has been made and no one sees fit to resign. The indictment stands not on speculative guesswork by the dome's critics but on information that was well known to those responsible and which the NAO report now confirms. Some £229 million has been wasted and, even by the Chancellor's definition, that was public money.

It is no wonder that people throughout Britain were so incensed every time another bundle of money was found to bail out this failing project. Can the Minister tell us that not a penny more will be granted? The Secretary of

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State could not say whether the money will be repaid. Labour Members know full well that their electors agree with every word of our motion, and it is up to those Members to explain themselves if they choose not to support it.

9.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Janet Anderson): As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said at the beginning of the debate, we welcome the National Audit Office report. It is factual and accurate, and it will provide useful material that will enable the Government and, I hope, politicians of all parties to learn the lessons of the millennium experience. We shall be happy to work with the Public Accounts Committee in its inquiry into the dome's operations. We have done all that we can to co-operate with the NAO on this complex inquiry, and we will co-operate equally with the PAC.

There used to be a similar spirit of co-operation between the political parties on this issue. The right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley), who is not in her place, said:

I very much regret the Opposition's breach of convention in insisting on holding a debate about an NAO report--they made it plain that the report would be the subject of the debate--immediately after its publication and before the PAC has held its hearings. Their action is highly irresponsible. It is a long-established convention that the Government do not respond in detail to recommendations in NAO reports until the PAC has completed an inquiry and a formal response has been made.

I will not be in danger of breaching convention if I point out some of the report's important findings. We have tonight heard a lot of bluster about the dome, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, there has been a deplorable unwillingness on the part of Opposition Members to acknowledge their role in many of the key decisions at the outset. We have heard serious points and not so serious points.

The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) is well known for his commitment to regeneration, and I thank him for his contribution. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who pointed out that the right hon. Member for Henley is one of the few grown-ups on the Opposition Benches. The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) asked about negotiations with Legacy. He will know that those negotiations continue and that they are commercially confidential, but I assure him that any decision will be communicated to the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick) and my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford), in whose constituency the dome lies, made important points about regeneration. The Minister for Housing and Planning has attended the whole debate and has always been a keen supporter of the dome.

I shall try to answer some of the points made by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), but some of them did not make much sense. The detailed points about

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the management of the dome during its year of operation will of course be considered by the PAC. The NAO report's finding--with which the Government entirely agree--is that the bulk of the difficulties associated with the dome are the result of the lower than expected number of visitors. We have heard much this evening about forecasts. Opposition Members have lined up to demonstrate their hindsight and show off their wisdom after the event. Yes, it is disappointing that the dome will not receive 12 million visitors; yes, the Government recognise that that means that the dome has been less of a success than everyone hoped. However, I remind Conservative Members, who are always keen to jeer when it suits them, that under the previous Government, the estimates of visitor numbers varied widely. Indeed, those various different estimates have been referred to in the debate. I remind the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) that he admitted on 9 November 1996 that the numbers were all over the place.

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