HC Deb 26 July 1999 vol 336 cc12-4
31. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

If he will make a statement on fire precautions and procedures in the millennium dome. [91369]

33. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

If he will list the fire precautions at the millennium dome; and if he will make a statement. [91371]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson)

Fire safety engineering has been at the heart of the designs for the millennium experience from the outset. Comprehensive strategies have been developed and employed in partnership with the New Millennium Experience Company's own fire consultants and with the local authority. The NMEC has aimed to ensure that the risk of fire occurring is minimised and that, should a fire occur, occupants are able to move to safety quickly and in a controlled manner.

Mr. Robathan

Last week, I visited the dome. Before the reshuffle, would the Secretary of State pass on my thanks, and those of hon. Members on both sides of the House, to Lord Falconer for his role in that visit?

Very many—possibly the majority—of visitors to the dome will be children, and great effort is being made to encourage disabled people to visit it. The reassuring response that the Minster has just given notwithstanding, on that visit it seemed to me and to other hon. Members that in such an enclosed space—which will contain many children and disabled people—there was the possibility of some real safety problems. Will the Minister further reassure the House and say what specific action she has taken to look after the needs of disabled people should there be a fire or any other emergency at the dome?

Janet Anderson

I am very pleased that the hon. Gentleman enjoyed his visit to the dome—140 hon. Members made the visit, and were very impressed with what they saw. It is important that the public should be reassured about public safety, and I make it clear that, in planning the event, safety—including that of the disabled and of children—has been our prime concern. I should also like to repeat the remarks of Ian Johnston, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, at this morning's launch of "Big Time", which will be the new year's eve party. He said: We have great confidence that we can provide a safe and secure environment where the public can enjoy themselves at this exciting event.

Miss McIntosh

Will the Minister estimate how long it would take to evacuate the dome in the event of an emergency, and how long it would take for the emergency services to enter the dome in such circumstances? Do she and the Department have any plans to co-ordinate emergency procedures for the many tourists whom we hope will come from other European countries?

Perhaps they could give some guidance to those who, in the event of a fire, might be evacuated from the new ghastly European Parliament building in Strasbourg.

Janet Anderson

The hon. Lady never misses a trick—I am not sure that the building to which she refers is our responsibility.

The fire precaution strategies at the dome have ranged from careful sizing and positioning of protected corridors and exits to the selection of construction materials which themselves have a low fire load. Active measures have been adopted, with large smoke extract fans incorporated into the dome roof and sprinklers included, where appropriate, in enclosed spaces.

Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole)

How long would it take?

Janet Anderson

Hang on a minute. The New Millennium Experience Company has carried out a number of computer simulations including, for example, the time taken for occupants to move to safety. We recognise that the timing is important, and I hope that we can give the House some more accurate information nearer the time.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

My hon. Friend has a great deal of experience in this House, and she must take with a large amount of salt the co-ordinated questions on fire safety at the millennium dome that have been tabled today. Is not it a fact that the Opposition have lost the battle? They have consistently criticised the dome and tried to undermine it as an enterprise. It is now on track to become an enormous success, and all they can do is try to raise a public scare about something that has been extremely well catered for. Are not they a pathetic Opposition, who are now realising what a success the millennium dome will be?

Janet Anderson

I have been reassured by Opposition Members' support for the project. Following conversations with Opposition spokesmen, I am aware that they now share our opinion that the project will be a great success.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

Not for the first time, may I put on record the Opposition's continuing and consistent support for the project—which, you will recall, Madam Speaker, originated under the Conservative Government? It is utter nonsense to pretend that we have criticised and carped about it. I have pointed that out several times in this place.

While acknowledging that one of the many thousands of tasks that needs to be completed over the next 159 days is ensuring public safety, may I ask the Minister to join me in congratulating Jennie Page and all those working on the site, who have never lost heart in the project and have been inspired by it? That inspiration—despite the regrettable public attitude that still exists—is the best hope that the dome will soon be a great success.

Janet Anderson

I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Jennie Page, and to David Trench, the construction director at the dome. Their contribution to making sure that the project is on time and on target has been beyond the call of duty. Hon. Members will wish to know that the New Millennium Experience Company has produced its annual report and accounts, which will be available in the Vote Office. All hon. Members will receive a millennium bulletin from us shortly, which will keep them up to date with further developments.

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