HL Deb 08 July 1997 vol 581 cc532-5

3.4 p.m.

Lord Elton

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they will ensure that it will be clear to all those visiting the projected millennium dome that it was built to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we recognise that the millennium is both a Christian anniversary and an important landmark for everyone who measures time by the Gregorian calendar. The Secretary of State for National Heritage has emphasised spiritual and physical renewal as central to the New Millennium Experience at Greenwich. We are willing to work closely with the Christian Churches, and with those of other faiths and none, to achieve this.

Lord Elton

My Lords, does the noble Lord realise what comfort there is in his Answer for those who were guided merely by the statement of the Government's position in the press release issued by the Minister without Portfolio 11 days ago which described the event as simply a chance for Britain to make a big statement about itself and to the rest of the world? Would not the omission of any reference to the central event we are celebrating, either in the dome or in the national programme, therein described as a "reaffirmation of faith in the nation's future", be an omission of the solid rock on which that faith ought to be built and which should be revisited?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am slightly puzzled by that question. The commitment to the emphasis on spiritual and physical renewal was made right from the very beginning and has never been abandoned. If it is not repeated on every single occasion, I think that is excusable.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

My Lords, is the Minister aware of how much I and other Church leaders appreciate the Government's public welcome of the Churches' desire, together with other faith communities, to be involved at every level of the nation's response to the millennium? Can he confirm that this also crucially applies to the planning of what is to take place within the dome?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I confirm not only what the most reverend Primate says but pay tribute also to his domestic chaplain who is the chairman of the Lambeth Group, which is the Churches' and other Faiths sub-group of the Millennium co-ordinating group. It is working closely with the Department of National Heritage in the planning for the millennium and for the dome. I can confirm that the group, composed not only of the Christian Churches but of other faiths, is playing an active part in the planning to which he refers.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, does the House agree that we begin our proceedings every day with Christian prayer? Does the noble Lord therefore agree that this is a Christian country and that the millennium should be approached in that spirit?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I thought I had made our position clear. The emphasis of the millennium will be towards spiritual and physical renewal. That includes the emphasis on Christian prayer to which my noble friend refers. But, as will be recognised, that is not the only concern of the millennium celebrations.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, while I fully support the wise words of the most reverend Primate, will the noble Lord let the House know what exactly is going to be inside this so-called dome? Is it not in danger of becoming the best kept secret since the contents of Joanna Southcott's box? Will he further confirm that it is not a dome at all, which is a well-known architectural form supported from the inside and found at St. Paul's, St. Peter's and Santa Sophia, but is better described, supported from the outside, as a marquee, a tent or a wigwam?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, without accepting the pejorative implications of the noble Lord's description, I have to say that he is architecturally correct in his distinction between the millennium dome and a strict definition dome. As to what is going to be inside, and if I may concentrate on the emphasis of the original Question, it is for the Millennium company to decide what should be within the dome. I understand that consideration is being given not only to a place for quiet reflection but to the possibility of a chapel.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, is it not somewhat inconsistent for Christian celebrations of this kind to be financed by the proceeds of gambling? Would it not be more in keeping with our Christian faith if the large sums of money which are to be expended on this exercise were to be distributed to people in need and suffering in our community?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I respect the views of my noble friend and of many noble Lords who, I know, will agree with him. However, I think he should remember that the National Lottery, whether one is for it or against it, has already collected £3.6 billion for good causes in this country, much of it for the relief of poverty and injustice. That should be taken into the balance.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, does the Minister gain the same impression as myself that, in view of the support given to the millennium dome, the Church of England is changing its mind about gambling, once a tenet of the Christian Church'?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am the last person who would seek to speak for the Church of England. I simply observe that the Lambeth Group of all Churches appears to be content with the lottery funding of the millennium.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the themes of physical and spiritual renewal which will run through the millennium celebrations are those which were identified by my right honourable friend the previous Secretary of State? Is the Minister aware of the considerable doubt about whether the millennium exhibition is actually going to take place? Can he reiterate my understanding that it definitely will take place? Will he also tell the House that it is going to be the best millennium celebration of its type anywhere on earth and that it will be a great success?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord seeks to trap me in his last remarks by quoting from members of my own party. As regards the earlier part of the question, I hope that I made clear that the theme of spiritual and physical renewal has been part of the intention of the millennium since the very beginning and that that was the view of the previous government.

Lord Elton

My Lords, given that the emphasis of the noble Lord's Answer has been so satisfactory as regards the Church and the future, may I remind him—

Noble Lords


Lord Elton

It is a question I am asking, if I may. If your Lordships say that I may not, then I shall ask the Minister whether he is already aware, as he should be, that the future does not begin today because, for us, it began 2,000 years ago?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I respect the noble Lord's faith and his views.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House how the millennium is to be celebrated in Wales and Scotland?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, that is rather wide of the Question. It is true to say that four-fifths of the expenditure on the millennium will be incurred outside the Greenwich dome. It will be used in all parts of the country and that will include Wales and Scotland.