HL Deb 08 April 1998 vol 588 cc763-99

3.30 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

rose to call attention to the proposed Millennium Dome; its cost, its position, its contents and its accessibility; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to start with the reflection—I do not think that it will make any of your Lordships uncomfortable—that much of the business of Government is deeply dull and extremely boring. That fact is a source of considerable discomfort to many of those who take part in it. I say that because they are very conscious of the appetite which prevails today for unceasing entertainment and amusement. That leads them to become very worried lest they themselves might be taken to be perhaps not quite as interesting as they would like to consider themselves to be.

There were some members of the past Administration who saw the coming millennium as something of an opportunity for a celebration. So keen were they to pick up this opportunity that they failed to spend any time considering the meaning of the millennium and coming to some conclusion. They seemed to treat it as a kind of super new year's day which called for a rather magnified version of the celebrations which normally take place on that day. They took little notice of the fact that that day is also an anniversary: the 2000th anniversary—whether or not it is accurate does not matter—of the birth of the Son of God, something of deep significance to Christians.

As a celebration of this particular day, they seized upon a filthy old site which they would clear up and cover with an edifice which would be a statement. I pause to express my interest in the way in which buildings now are permitted to make statements. All sorts of inanimate objects join us in making statements. If I may put it this way, with customary delicacy, not all of those statements are deeply interesting. But this building, which was to make a statement, was intended to reflect, to call attention to, the sometimes unrecognised capabilities which are so often dormant in our great nation. There was also the hope that in the wake of the statement there would also be just a tiny reminder of their own distinction.

A certain confusion about the significance of the date has covered the issue since. When the Labour Party was in Opposition, it trod very warily indeed. I thought that it was commendably discreet and very careful where it put its feet. It was obviously fearful that this celebration might bring new lustre to a government which it considered to be rather tired, and might go some way to obscuring its own startling and obvious merits.

In May 1997 a change took place. In Government, the mood gradually began to change. What the new Government had seen as sauce for a tired old Tory goose suddenly became a very welcome sauce for Labour's bright, new, sparkling gander. So the Government decided to go ahead. Again, they ran up against that difficulty to which I have already referred: that the date had another meaning besides just being a rather super new year's day. It was undeniably and rather embarrassingly something of a Christian occasion. But governments are sometimes very careful; and they were very correct here. They feared that the celebration of a Christian occasion might be embarrassing to non-Christians. So they took a step in the right direction, but determined not to make anyone else feel uncomfortable. They promised what they called a spiritual experience. I really am anxiously looking forward to hearing from the Minister something of what he has in mind when he thinks or talks of a spiritual experience. If that spiritual experience is to be accompanied by having your socks blown off, then I think the noble Lord will be listened to with even more rapt attention than he usually is in your Lordships' House.

We are now three-quarters of the way to having a dome which is to be the centre-piece of the celebration. I think that it would be foolish to allow any implied criticism that I may have of the Government to flow over onto a building which promises to be a very remarkable one indeed. I think that it is permissible to pause and regret that the huge sum of money concerned has not been applied to some more permanent and lasting memorial. There are, after all, many other causes of which your Lordships are constantly reminded which could profit enormously by the application of such a volume of resources.

Massive resources have been devoted just to this one site. I think it is permissible to pause and express a word of regret along the lines that I have described. But it would be a waste of your Lordships' time to indulge in any prolonged lamentation. Omar Khayyám's "moving finger" has written and moved on, but the difficulty is that on this occasion it had some guidance from the present Government, with the result that much of what has been written is not easy to read. There are also some notable gaps and I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to clear them up this afternoon. It is rather unfair to remind noble Lords opposite of what they said, but perhaps I may pick one remark. In the course of asking a Question, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, with the delicacy that we all expect of him, mentioned at the end of last year the, "smell of an impending muddle". If I may put it this way, the same aroma is attacking my sense of smell at this moment. The smell of an impending muddle is with us all.

This debate gives the Government an opportunity to answer certain questions. Perhaps I may list them for the attention of the noble Lord. First, who, having the necessary experience and muscle, has full executive charge of the project? Secondly, will this huge sum which has been extracted from the people's pockets be enough? Alternatively, are we to learn in the event that because of what will doubtless be described as "tight budgeting" some vital items which were considered at one time to be necessary have been left out?

My third question is this: have the hoped for sponsors—who appear hitherto to have been rather shy—yet appeared? Is the site now clean and safe? May we have the Government's guarantee that no unpleasant substances will subsequently ooze from underneath it? Just as a matter of interest, I should be fascinated to know where and how the spoil extracted from the site has been deposited? Is it entirely safe? It is just a little point. I wonder whether anyone has paid the landfill tax on that. Or have the ever vigilant Customs closed their eyes for once?

I have a further question of importance. Is this whole scheme going to be ready on time, including the Jubilee line on which so much depends? My next question is: is the building wholly proof against wind, fire and water? Is it soundproof against noises coming from outside? Perhaps the Minister will be able to comfort us too that the atmosphere of the dome gives rise to no problems or anxieties. Maybe the Minister should join us in giving a thought to the inhabitants of Greenwich who, I should have thought, face the prospect of total congestion. It is not an easy place to move around in ordinarily and with the invasion it will be very uncomfortable.

On the question of the contents, of which so little is known, we have seen pictures of a strange, unsexed human being gazing—rather surprisingly in the circumstances—at a child. But beyond that we have little knowledge of the contents.

I conclude with this question: has there ever before in human history been a building erected at such expense with so short a lifespan and with little or no knowledge as to who or what will be contained, accommodated, protected or sheltered within it? My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Montague of Oxford

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, on achieving the debate this afternoon and on the wit with which he made his points, some of which I shall address.

In this country we are very good at exhibitions. We are equally good at cynicism. I wish first to draw the attention of the House to what Queen Victoria wrote in her diary following the 1851 Exhibition: I never remember anything before that everyone was so pleased with, as is the case with this exhibition". That followed the visits of 6 million people. The cynics of that time had ridiculed the idea. Again to quote, this time from the record of Asa Briggs, it was: an industrial exhibition in the heart of fashionable Belgravia to enable foreigners to rob us of our honour". Public indifference was prophesied and financial failure.

The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, referred to political considerations. There were political considerations then. A political diarist wrote at that same time: To Disraeli, with both eyes fixed on parliamentary problems and prospects, it was a godsend to the Government—diverting public attention from their blunders". In 1951 the Festival of Britain was to suffer similar birth pains and triumph. It was recommended by a committee in 1946 and immediately accepted by the Government. In 1947, Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade answered that it had been reluctantly decided to abandon the holding of an exhibition since it would involve largescale demands on labour and materials and would impede the progress of reconstruction. That did not enjoy a welcome from the public. So in 1947, the Lord President of the Council, Herbert Morrison, announced to the House of Commons that there would be a festival and an exhibition. It would run for six months. This time 8.5 million people came to it. It was a great success. The then director-general of that exhibition was asked whether he could explain the triumph. He replied: The essence of a successful exhibition is that it should be unlike any that has gone before". An exhibition should be synonymous with experiment, a once-in-a-century event.

That brings us to the exhibition we are to have in the year 2000. What a unique event it will be. I know, because I held the position on the Millennium Commission now held by the right honourable Michael Heseltine. I represented the opposition and I have been a party to all the decisions. Just imagine this building which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, rightly referred to as memorable. It will be equal in size to 13 Albert Halls or two Wembley Stadiums and as tall as Nelson's Column. It will be a truly remarkable building which I am sure throughout the year 2000 and thereafter will be a talking point throughout the world.

Why Greenwich? We considered many sites but were overtaken by the compulsion to bring back to society the use of 300 acres of land which was both derelict and contaminated. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that I am in turn sure that it is now properly decontaminated and that nothing will ooze from underneath. We will all be able to visit the site in great comfort.

The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, said that there is some doubt about the content. It seems to me that the media are in some doubt; but the authorities are not. Great detail has been given as to the 13 zones into which the exhibition area will be divided. Time does not make it possible to go into detail on the zones, but all is decided and if the noble Lord and others care to study what is proposed they will be greatly impressed. There will be 13 zones combining to educate us all; to make us all think and to marvel. Let us remember that knowledge is power.

Is it a waste of money? The actual cost to lottery funds will be less than £400 million. That sounds a lot of money, but in the context of the millennium one must remember that around £4 billion is being spent. There will be great projects throughout the land. I shall not detail them all now; they are well known to those who live in various regions and can identify with the individual major projects, each of which will cost around £100 million. A question was asked in regard to the sponsorship money. It is forecast to be £150 million. Half of that has already been committed, so there is relief from that area.

In summary, how would I describe the forthcoming exhibition in contemporary terms? It is like the "Titanic" of 1998—not that of 1912 where everybody drowned, but the film that won 11 Oscars. I forecast at least 11 Oscars for this great exhibition.

3.52 p.m.

Lord Luke

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing this subject in his usual inimitable, forthright and marvellous way. It was a tremendous speech, full of wit and other good things.

During the whole period of the conception and construction of the Millennium Dome there has been a constant stream of rumour, tittle-tattle and speculation. One of the reasons for that has been the unnecessarily secretive way in which the Government handled the project, even since 28th February. That was a better day, but it has all gone quiet since then. As a result of that, the media have had a field day.

That has had one result. Everyone has heard of the dome; news of it has even reached the far corners of the world. I understand that several of the delegates to the recent Europe-Asia conference asked to be taken round. Whether one loves it or hates it, the dome is a fact, and a very expensive one, as my noble friend so eloquently said.

The weather has so far been kind to the dome. I understand that 25 per cent. of the covering is now in place and none so far has blown away.

We have an established Church in this country. As my noble friend said, it will be the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. Yet the Christian involvement in the dome seems inadequate and somehow apologetic. The Lambeth Group and other committees should be using their collective imaginations to bring about a satisfactory resolution.

Public access to the experience is the key to the success of the whole enormous project. We are assured that London Underground has solved its Jubilee Line problems; that the extension will be up and running completely by spring 1999. That does not give much time. Let us hope that there is no more slippage because the deadline cannot be changed. Can the Minister say what will happen if the Jubilee Line is not ready or has teething troubles? Have the Government prepared any viable contingency plans to get 35,000 people—more of less—per day to Greenwich, or 70,000 if we are talking about pre-booked double sessions?

We have always known that the motor car will not be welcome at the dome; there is nowhere to put it. Yet millions of Britons use and prefer to use their cars for family outings such as a visit to the dome. There has therefore been much discussion as to where to put car parks. Quite rightly, every effort is being made to find suitable car park sites near railway and Underground stations. There is also the plan to use two large sites for car parking near the Thames—one north and one south of the river, east of the dome—and to use water buses on a shuttle service to the dome. That would complete a certain balance in the means of access to the dome. Many people will do anything to avoid going into London when they do not need to.

Incredibly, the "park and sail" scheme has now been shelved due to the lack of a bidder for the franchise for the shuttle to and from the car parks and the dome. I find that surprising and wonder whether conditions attached to the tender for the service make it uneconomic or whether there is some other reason. I call upon the Government to put their weight behind finding a solution to that problem because it is extremely important.

I hope it will not be forgotten that large numbers of people, particularly foreign tourists in central London during the summer, will want to visit the dome on the spur of the moment. They will not want to book weeks or months ahead, and it is important that they are properly looked after.

I shall not keep your Lordships much longer. I should like to say that a great deal of public money has been spent on this project and a great deal more will be spent, whether it comes from the lottery or elsewhere. We must hope therefore that the millennium experience will be a success. We on these Benches want an assurance from the Government that it will not be exploited for political purposes. I ask therefore whether it is not now the time for the direction of the whole enterprise to be handed over to a non-political figure.

3.58 p.m.

Lord Newby

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, for initiating this debate. It is fair to say that on these Benches there have been a number of serious misgivings about the whole project; about its cost, its content and, on my part at least, the extraordinary hyperbole of language which has been used by Ministers in an attempt to persuade the country of the dome's importance. However, I firmly believe that it is now time to concentrate on how we can make the dome a success. If it is a success, it will bring considerable benefits.

Of those benefits, the least tangible but among the most significant will be on the mood of the country and the perception of the UK internationally. The dome is to be possibly the largest single millennium project in the world. It will have the capacity to excite and inspire people who attend. Anyone who visited the Expo in Seville will know how powerful such a spectacular exposition of information and ideas can be. It also has the capacity to send a signal to the world that the UK is not just a backward-looking heritage theme park but is self-confident and welcoming of new developments in science, technology and leisure.

As to the more tangible benefits which the dome will bring, my noble friend Lord Thurso will speak about tourism later. But I wish to concentrate on its potential for regenerating one of the most important derelict sites in London and also one of the most economically depressed areas of the capital. A decade ago, when I went to work for the property company Rosehaugh, it had just submitted proposals for redeveloping what was then called the Greenwich Peninsula. It was one of a number of consortia which had done so and it was doing so against the backdrop of huge activity by Greenwich Borough Council. But despite all that effort and the huge amount of interest in the area, until the dome, nothing of real substance was happening. Compared to this stagnation, the regeneration impact of the dome is really tremendous. In itself it will generate 7,000 jobs and the other plans for housing on the peninsula will create further short-term building jobs and leave a legacy of a permanent and, it is to be hoped, well planned and executed new residential community with its attendant economic activity.

The longer term regenerative potential of the dome depends crucially, however, on its use after the year 2000. If, as I believe it can, a sensible use can be found for it, it should surely remain where it is and continue to provide jobs and economic activity for the Greenwich area. As for the longer term use, there will no doubt be many ideas coming forward over the next couple of years. But my own preferred option would be for a major convention centre to be housed within the dome. London lacks this facility. It has relatively few sites where such a facility could be provided and the dome clearly has the capacity to handle the largest conference gatherings on a world scale.

For those involved in running the dome, the next 18 months will be frenetically busy. For that reason, I do not support the idea that every aspect of their work should be subject to over-regular and over-detailed scrutiny by Parliament. The reputation of all those involved in the project hangs on its success and I am sure that this is providing a very significant motivating force for all those involved. However, looking again at the regenerative side of the issue, there are a number of questions which I believe it is appropriate to raise with the Minister at this stage and I hope that he will forgive me if I do so.

First, will the Government, in the context of the Section 106 agreement signed with Greenwich council on the development of local labour and training schemes, consider how young people, particularly those involved in the New Deal, might be given the maximum opportunity to become involved in the project? Secondly, will the Government agree in principle with the concept of the dome remaining in situ for the rest of its natural life? Such an assurance would make it more likely that sensible ideas came forward for its longer term use. Thirdly, are the Government giving active consideration to how the neighbouring Woolwich Arsenal site might be opened up, not just to those visiting the dome and in the short-term, but in the longer term how the development of that huge, underdeveloped site, with its historic buildings, might, with the Greenwich Peninsula and the dome, begin to fulfil its economic potential?

I repeat that I am keen to see the dome succeed during the millennium year but I am equally keen to ensure that it has an on-going significant economic impact and, while necessarily concentrating on the short-term, I would urge the Government to give serious thought now to the dome's longer term economic potential.

4.3 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, for introducing this debate, which is particularly appropriate perhaps during this Holy Week before Easter. Like everyone else, Christians are divided in their opinions about the Greenwich Dome. If the Churches had been given the task of organising the nation's millennium celebrations, which is not such a ridiculous idea when one thinks about the reason for it, we would have organised it differently, almost certainly without the assistance of a dome.

As far as the present project is concerned, many people feel that the enormous sums of money might have been far better spent in other ways, while others believe it would have been better to have sited the dome, if we had to have one, somewhere else. As a representative of the far east of England, I have some sympathy with that. It is irritating constantly to be fed with the impression that what happens in London is typical of what is happening everywhere else, which it is not; or else that what happens in London matters more, which it does not.

The Churches will of course be organising celebrations of the millennium nationwide, and linking with worldwide celebrations. But whatever our personal views, once the Government decided to go ahead with the dome, many have followed the lead of the Archbishop of Canterbury in working to ensure that the spiritual dimension of life in general, and the Christian faith in particular, was not only properly represented but became a real focal point of this project. Neither he nor any of us believes that the dome is the most important part of this country's millennium celebrations, but we are convinced that, because of the symbolic importance it has assumed, it is vital to get it right.

Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen. We are encouraged by the fact that the New Millennium Experience Company appears concerned to ensure proper liaison with the Churches through the Lambeth Group. We are grateful for assurances that space will be provided in the dome for people to pray, should they wish to do so, and that proper provision will be made for Christians and those of other faiths.

Very much more is needed of course. When a millennium is referred to in literature through the ages, it is almost always described as a "Christian" Millennium—the "First Christian Millennium" or the "Second Christian Millennium". It is a pity that the adjective has been dropped, because there is only one reason for the celebration of 2,000 years, as has been mentioned, and that is that it commemorates the birth of Christ. That is not triumphalism. It is a simple fact. Anything which marginalises the Christian faith in these celebrations is escaping plain reality.

We hope and expect that the Spirit Zone in particular will display something of the history of Christianity in this country. We hope that that history will be carefully and accurately presented, and will avoid repeating the kind of historical tosh journalists love to trot out; for example, that the Church of England was founded by Henry VIII because he wished to divorce his wife. I trust that Church historians will be consulted so that we avoid ecclesiastical versions of 1066 And All That.

We hope and expect that the Spirit Zone will clearly recognise the central contribution of our faith to our nation's culture and institutions, and will also encompass something of the diverse expressions of belief and spirituality in this land today. But we would not wish matters of faith to be restricted to the Spirit Zone. The Christian Church, and most other faith communities, hold that faith touches on every aspect of life. We therefore hope that it will be recognised implicity and explicitly in every zone of the dome.

For example, in the Rest Zone the pattern of the seven-day week, which includes a day of rest each week, and of Holy Days or holidays has been substantially formed by the Jewish and Christian traditions. Sadly, this tradition, which is so important to the health of the community, has been seriously undermined by the relaxation of the Sunday trading laws. The millennium could just give politicians a chance to repent if they have the courage to do so.

In the Work Zone, Christianity and other faith communities have a great deal to say. The same applies in the Local Zone and, very importantly, in the Global Zone. We hope and expect that prominence will be given to Jubilee 2000 and the campaign to release third world countries from their crippling burdens of debt. This campaign, which was initiated by the Pope a long time ago, is uniting all Churches behind it.

Any lack of enthusiasm for the dome from these Benches should not be interpreted as a lack of enthusiasm for the millennium. On the contrary, Christians have the most reason to celebrate 2,000 years of history. We shall celebrate with joy, with thanksgiving for the past, with hope for the future and with some laughter as we continue to read dire predictions that the Church is in terminal decline. The same thing has been said for 2,000 years.

We look forward to visiting the dome, if it does not cost too much. We look forward to a visit which will be fun, where we will learn and where we will reflect. We look forward to a visit which will recall our Christian foundations and which will remind us that as human beings we are creatures of the spirit as well as of the body and the mind.

4.10 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I start from the defining point of this debate and ask your Lordships to bear in mind, regardless of who is the Chief Executive of whom my noble friend was inquiring, that the sole shareholder in this company is Her Majesty's Government which cannot, therefore, shelter behind the executive board. This debate is not advice addressed to a commercial company by its potential customers; it is counsel offered to a national government by a House of Parliament.

The second point has already been made. The number 2000 is not a random number; it is a point of measurement. The point at which the measurement started was, and is, recognised universally to be the birth of Jesus Christ. Inescapably, therefore, what we will be celebrating when the number 2000 comes up on the calendar will be the birth and life of Christ; and by naming the dome for the millennium we have committed ourselves publicly—and internationally—to doing so. If, as I hope and expect, we also celebrate what we have achieved in the 2,000 years since then, either it will be in the light of that life and recognising how that life has shaped what has followed, or it will be (and will be seen by others to be) a tatty and rather pathetic attempt by the Brits to hitch their domestic pretensions to something infinitely bigger which they do not quite understand.

The question of the identity of Jesus Christ therefore becomes very important. To some He is merely a hugely influential religious philosopher. That is a popular position because it absolves those who adopt it from further inquiry, let alone further thought, on the subject. They are not, therefore, faced with the conundrum that the claims He made were, and remain, so intellectually complete that they could not be made by a fool: and so staggering that they could only be made by a madman—unless they are true—and the more one learns about Him, the more completely sane He turns out to be.

Therefore it may be that there are some involved in planning this "experience" who only see Christ as an enormously influential, but otherwise ordinary man. They must, I think, be asked first to look at the huge influence He has had, through His followers, on the sweep of history—tragic where they have mistaken Him, as in the Spanish Inquisition, in the burning of our own martyrs and in the obscenities which the current talks are intended to bring to an end in Northern Ireland—and triumphant, when correctly understood, whether by St. Augustine, Mother Theresa or our own William Wilberforce. Then we must ask them to consider who is the Christ we are talking about, as recognised by all the saints and martyrs, a great army of reformers and myriads of common people down the ages, because this, inescapably, is what we are going to celebrate and what their plans, therefore, must reflect.

It will save time if they look at the very first few verses in St. John's Gospel, in which they will read, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him: and without Him was not any thing made that was made". Only a few verses further on they will find this Word, this creative utterance of God through whom the whole universe and all within it was created, identified as Jesus Christ: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us". I hope that they go on to read it all, but it is in the light of that knowledge that the whole civilisation of the Western world has developed. The noble Lord has already said that knowledge is power. That knowledge is power and the noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, might take note. When subsets of that civilisation have attempted to stifle that knowledge, as in the Jacobin state in revolutionary France and the communist state of mid-20th century Russia, it has sprung up behind them when they fell, as flowers spring up after drought.

The recognition of Christ as Creator really does mean that recognition of Him cannot be tucked away in a single corner, or zone, however effectively it may there be demonstrated, as the right reverend Prelate has said. His claims, which we, inescapably, shall be celebrating, are not merely sectoral, they are not merely national, they are not even merely global—they are universal. in the strictest meaning of that word. It will not be enough, therefore, even to have recognition in one part of the dome, even if that part is the centre. There must be an overarching theme that embraces the whole. It need not be aggressive—His appeal never has been aggressive—so it need not offend those of other faiths. They live in His universe and should be welcome in the dome, but it must be universal. That must be an essential part of the planners' brief.

But, of course, that is not the whole of Christ's claim which we shall, inescapably, be celebrating. As they will discover, when they read on in that Book, He claimed—and to the satisfaction of millions (not all of them fools or suckers)—that He had turned physical death from a blank terminus to the glorious, triumphant and joyful beginning we shall celebrate next Sunday, for every single human being that cares to accept it.

But—and this also they must recognise—the road to that victory with Him cannot be plotted on profitable balance sheets, material goods, wealth or self-advancement. If those are our prime objectives, we are going the other way. His way puts material wealth and power at the bottom of the list and not at the top. By all means let us celebrate material success, but we can only celebrate it, in this context, neither as the master nor as the objective, but as the servant of mankind.

If the overarching recognition of Christ is to be a symbol, such as the Cross, His universal presence should be recognised by an exaltation, not of conquest and profit, but of service. The zone which caters for things spiritual must recognise the Christ who acted out what it meant to be Lord and master by taking off his coat and washing His followers' feet, and who acted out kingship by accepting an agonising and humiliating death for the sake of the human race. Beyond that, as a faint reprise of that theme, there really should be space in every sector to show how ordinary people, not geniuses, not generals, but ordinary people, can and do spend great parts of their lives in working for the good of their neighbours and of mankind.

If it does not contain both general and particular recognitions of the person of Christ in some such ways as these, it will not be Rule Britannia or even Cool Britannia, but Fool Britannia exhibiting itself in the dome.

4.17 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, for promoting and providing this debate which gives us an opportunity to express our views about the Millennium Dome and perhaps to say something about the wider issues, the thought and discussion of which prompted the previous speaker.

I was one of those who initially felt that the Government might have made a mistake. I was one of the majority who, like the weekend press, is constantly carping. But once a decision had been taken I felt—rather like the noble Lord, Lord Newby—that it was incumbent on me not just to find out as much as I could about the venture but, more importantly, to do whatever I could to make it a success. I want that success, not just for us as citizens of the United Kingdom, but in order to send a message in the widest possible sense and, yes, even to make a statement, that the rest of the world can share.

I am one of those who believes that the spirit moves in a whole variety of different ways. Indeed, even buildings make statements. To me that is what the Statue of Liberty does. It is not just for the citizens of the United States, but for the world. That is what the statue of Christ does for me in Rio de Janeiro. That is what the Holocaust exhibition in Jerusalem does for me and for many people.

Like it or not, the dome will make a statement. I should like that statement to be important in material and, even more so, in spiritual terms. I visited Greenwich with Members of the other place, many fearful of their constituents' feelings and views about the dome, because there is a good deal of criticism. I urge those noble Lords who have not yet visited the site to do so as soon as possible. If they do they will receive many of the answers to the questions that have been posed, as my noble friend Lord Montague pointed out. Many of us were greatly impressed by what we saw and by the plans that we had an opportunity to examine. There is a good deal of work still to be done; and there are more questions to be answered. But the dome will provide significant benefits in material terms for the inhabitants of Greenwich. There will be business development, new jobs, homes, public transport infrastructure, a cleaner environment than ever before, tourism, education and training, culture, and a host of other related events.

I trust that the dome will provide a legacy. To deliver that within the timescale will not be easy. We should do everything in our power to ensure that it is delivered on time and that it is a success. We have a fine heritage and culture but we also have downsides. At present we have a cultural problem in the form of an unwillingness to take risks and a lack of entrepreneurial spirit. I believe that that is linked to our failings in education, teaching skills and training. I refer here to all of the Churches. I am a member of the Anglican Church. In all our different ways we are endeavouring to put this right. We must not be diverted. Scepticism and cynicism must be confronted. I view today's debate in a positive sense as part of that process. I hope that it will assist us to meet the tight timetable and demonstrate to the world our refound confidence and innovative spirit.

I return to my major theme: spirit in the widest possible sense. I join the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich in his appeal. Although the dome may not be the centre of all the events for the Church of England, certainly it should be the centre of events for many people in this country who are not of our faith. It is very important that we and the rest of the world are seen to be celebrating the birth of Christ and beyond that the spirit of God regardless of faith.

Fashions and customs of the world go by but fundamental virtues are eternal. I hope and pray that from within the dome is radiated something to be shared with the rest of the world irrespective of faith: honesty, purity, selflessness, love, gratitude and, for all of us, humility.

4.24 p.m.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, I welcome this debate on the millennium and am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peyton for giving us this marvellous opportunity to call attention to an issue which, although discussed at great length, still seems to be a little unreal. The construction is real enough. It is quite breathtaking in its impact on the neighbourhood. Certainly, one cannot miss it if one travels to London City Airport. I choose the word "breathtaking" carefully. The sheer size of it and its massive intrusion on the landscape take my breath away. No matter what is said about the dome in this debate, it is here to stay and, even if we wished to, we could not stop it now.

I simply make two points in this debate. The first is the risk of creating a rift between those in the population who appear to be regarded as part of the dome's natural audience and those who are likely to feel excluded. My second point relates to the hope, already expressed during the course of this debate, that the dome will reflect in a significant way the reason for the celebration of the millennium; namely, the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Government came to office with a wish list of how it wanted to be a government of all the people. Social and any other form of exclusion would not have any place in the Government's agenda. However, there is a significant feeling—I do not put it any higher than that, although many do—that unless one is of a certain political persuasion, of a certain age group or subscribes to certain lifestyles, one is almost a non-person. Cool Britannia, Powerhouse, children as ambassadors for the day and advertising for ambassadors in our major embassies are all new ideas; but all of them exclude a huge body of people.

When the plans for the interior of the dome were announced, the inference, rightly or wrongly, was that unless one was under 40 and had lively and inquisitive kids, one would not be interested in, nor catered for by, the millennium extravaganza in Greenwich. I sincerely hope that that is not correct. Let us not forget that the dome is being financed by lottery money. Punters on the lottery are a very wide group. It is being financed by taxes and by shareholders' money through those companies which are donating funds to the dome.

The Millennium Dome should be universal in its appeal, and I look to the Minister to tell me that it will be. It may be that the dome has not yet been marketed properly to the potential audience. Conferences have been held up and down the country; but have the attendees been handpicked? I was not aware of such conferences until I read the Government's response to the Second Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of another place in Session 1997–1998 (Cm 3886).

I turn to my second point. It is appropriate to recall, as has already been said several times, that we would not be celebrating anything were it not for the fact that for the past almost 2,000 years everything has been dated from the birth of Jesus Christ. The monk Dionysius was the first to calculate the years from the birth of Christ. He was urged to do so by the Byzantine emperors who realised that their destiny was in the hands of God, as kings and rulers have realised ever since, right through to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. We would have no reason to celebrate and build a massive dome unless Jesus Christ had been born, died and risen again almost 2,000 years ago.

When we look at the edifice that has been chosen as the single most costly and gigantic expression of specific celebration of the millennium there is comfort in the fact that the shape of the building is a dome. The dome has been a symbol of the heavens since time immemorial. The Romans placed domes over their mausoleums to remind the populace where the dead had gone. That was adapted by the Christian Church. We have a marvellous, permanent dome—it is likely to be a good deal more permanent than the one at Greenwich—at St. Paul's Cathedral, just a short distance from here, which acts as a constant reminder of the national faith in Divine Providence as revealed to us through Jesus Christ.

No society has ever survived without firm roots in the supernatural. Of course, this applies to all religions. Here, I venture on to difficult ground. There are many hidden bumps and hollows where I can trip. I respect religions other than Christianity and recognise common ground with them, but the culture of this country has been Christian-based for some 1,500 years. We must ensure that that message is loud and clear in everything that we do to celebrate the millennium. The millennium brochure states that the dome will contain a zone entitled the "Spirit Level". I am sorry; I believe it should be the "Spirit Zone"—that was a Freudian slip. I quote the following: The formative influence of Christianity in the history of the western world will be recognised as will the presence of other religious beliefs". The reason for celebrating the millennium is Christianity, not other religious beliefs. By all means have a section which deals with religious beliefs in this country but Christianity should be given special recognition.

The noble Lord the Minister and I have had exchanges on this quite frequently since the idea of the dome was first mooted. I respect his views as a member of the Humanist Society, and he has no objection to my saying that. He respects my views as a professing and practising Christian. What I want, desperately, to achieve is an agreement from him that because of the reason for celebrating the Millennium—to reiterate, a celebration would not exist were it not for Jesus Christ—Christianity should be the single most important focus of the dome. I very much like the suggestion made by the right reverend Prelate that each of the 13 zones should have a Christian input.

In this most sacred week of the Christian year we should be making the strongest possible case for incorporating a huge cross at the entrance to the dome so that everyone who enters is aware of the real reason for celebration. The suggestion that the Spirit Level—is it the spiritual level, spirit level or Spirit Zone?

Lord McIntosh

Actually, my Lords, it says, "Spirit Level", but the noble Baroness is right in saying that it ought to be Spirit Zone.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, the Spirit Zone will depict our spiritual heritage, and that is fine. But it is not enough. An exhibition within the dome can be visited or not visited on a "pick-and-mix" basis and most visitors might not even visit it. But every visitor has to go through the entrance, and it is there that I would want to see the symbol of our Christian heritage. The millennium offers us a new opportunity to return to our religious background, and I hope that the dome can be an outward and visible symbol of that.

In party political terms, this side instigated the dome and now that side is entrusted with the task of seeing it to completion. The arguments of whether we should or should not have a dome are irrelevant and time-wasting; but we have a superb opportunity to influence the manner in which the dome is used to continue the Christian tradition of this country.

4.31 p.m.

Lord Annan

My Lords, with the usual vanity of old age, I still picture myself as someone who throughout his life has welcomed the new, tried without success to get institutions to reform themselves and enjoyed putting drawing pins on the seats of the pompous and the mighty. And when the National Lottery was set up I spoke in the House in favour of giving a tranche of money to celebrate the millennium. But when I am asked to praise the dome, I do find myself in great difficulty. So I expect that I am yet another old curmudgeon incapable of empathising with the generation now in power.

I do not agree with those who say that the money would be better spent on the National Health Service or better education—those two insatiable suppliants, like the poor, are always with us. But I do think it is fitting that our country should make a statement about the future: indeed a permanent monument to itself. In France, every president, like the Roman emperors, commemorates himself. There is the Centre Pompidou, which was designed by the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, or La Défense for M. Giscard D'Estaing, or M. Mitterrand's third Opera House at the Bastille. Germany is rebuilding the old centre of Berlin to celebrate reunification. What have we got? We hoped to be singing an oratorio but instead we have a gig.

We got more than that over 40 years ago. The Festival of Britain had its gimmicks, like the Skylon that symbolised nothing, and there were other temporary landmarks which were later destroyed. But the festival had a real theme. It was centred upon the Festival Hall and the promise of galleries, theatres and concert halls to come and which now fill the South Bank. During the war there emerged a passion for reading and enjoying the arts, and Keynes's creation of what became the Arts Council was the bureaucratic expression of this desire to respect and encourage the arts: indeed, modern art. That was coupled with hostility to the old guards' philistinism and a determination to get rid of anachronisms like the Lord Chamberlain's censorship of the theatre.

The festival was a lot of fun, but it also had a purpose and a message; and so indeed 100 years previously had the Great Exhibition. The theme of the Great Exhibition in 1851 was domestic peace, British trade and British products and technology. Paxton's Crystal Palace in Hyde Park was so admired that it was re-erected in south London. Can the Minister tell us: will it be possible to re-erect Lord Rogers' dome and, if so, where might it be? Surely, considering the expense of designing and erecting it, it would be deplorable if in the year 2001 it was demolished and sold for scrap.

Will the Minister today be able to lift a corner of the veil to reveal some of the mysteries that the public will see inside the dome? I ask because every revelation so far makes one fear that the contents are going to be an extension of Disneyland. The visitor, it is said, is going to move from what is called "an experience" on to the next "experience". I do hope that the Minister will be able to dispel the impression one gets from the media of infinite triviality. For instance, we have been told that there will be a Christian dimension within the dome; but what form is it going to take—a tabernacle for each branch of the Christian faith—or will it be, as I rather hope from what the right reverend Prelate said, an historical survey of 2,000 years of worship and doctrinal development?

That having been said, I feel it is only in our cathedrals and our churches that the great expression of Christian welcome and thanksgiving for the millennium should take place. It does not seem to me good enough for the Government to repeat that the dome is to be a symbol of "New Britain", "Cool Britannia" and all the other slogans which have now become clichés. My mind goes back to the time of that other great cliché, when Britain was to be transformed by the white hot technological revolution. It is too much like the "I'm Backing Britain" campaign in 1968. The other day Mr. Francis Wheen reminded us that the most memorable suggestions among the 100 cranky suggestions for helping your country were then that children should agree to forgo milk at school and adults should drink British mead. What does the Prime Minister expect the Panel 2000 to come up with? The comparable committee which was formed 30 years ago to boost Britain came up with zilch.

I hate being a wowser. I hate the role of "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells". I sympathise with the Prime Minister's desire for informality, for openness and to override class and ethnic distinctions. But the case that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, deployed against the dome doing anything to give effect to these desires and to illuminate the future was certainly devastating. Yet I hope that he and I are going to be, despite the omens, surprised and delighted when the day dawns.

4.38 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, upon my way here this afternoon I stopped at the John Simon Hair Salon at the other end of the Palace of Westminster. That. incidentally, is a facility available to all Members of this House, whether hereditary or life peers, in answer to a point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I asked the young lady who was cutting my hair whether she had ever been to Greenwich to see the Millennium Dome being built. She said that she had. I asked her what she thought about it. She said, "Wow, amazing!". Like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, I recently visited the dome with my wife. My feelings, too, were in the "Wow, amazing!" category.

Those inverted spider legs pointing towards the sky have the potential of being part of a remarkable building. The newly opened visitor centre was impressive. In the visitor centre we were told of the range of things that there would be available to look at and discuss in the Millennium Dome. For example, "Where in our solar system would human beings be likely to be living by the end of the next century?". What would be the role for oil, now seen as a great environmental pollutant? What would be the role for oil in transport in the next century?". Those are intriguing subjects.

It is clear, too—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Newby, on this—that the building of the dome is a great spur for the rehabilitation of Greenwich itself. I have long thought that with the Naval College, the Maritime Museum, the Painted Hall and the observatory, Greenwich has the potential to be the London rival to Versailles, which so far it never has been. Of course, transport by railway, tube and river has to be developed. That will come as the dome takes shape.

But I agree with the worry expressed by my noble friend Lord Peyton and the noble Lord, Lord Annan, about the temporary nature of the structure; it is ephemeral, and unlike what was done in 1851 when, after the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition, the great museums in South Kensington were built, or the exhibition in 1951 which gave birth to the buildings on the South Bank, the dome will make no permanent contribution to the advance of Britain.

I agree, too, that the Government seem to be dangerously absorbed in the quick message—the ephemeral, the strapline, the 10-second soundbite and the "Cool Britannia" message rather than in the content. I have no wish to be a killjoy. I think of the £100 billion party there will be around the world during the year 2000, but what at the end of the day will be available? The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is looking at me—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would care to move to another microphone.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, is that better?

Noble Lords


Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, I will shout. I am very sorry if my precious words have gone missing. I was saying that I have no wish to be a killjoy, but I fear that at the end of the year 2000 about £100 billion will have been spent around the world and there will be little to show for it except for a hangover.

In that context, I was struck—again this goes back to something said by the noble Lord, Lord Annan—by the piece of paper I received about Panel 2000 from the FCO just the other day. What are the emphases behind Panel 2000? To produce a strategy for the public presentation of Britain worldwide … to review, and where necessary. modernise the instruments … for projecting Britain overseas; to engage Government Departments … in promoting the same messages: to modernise the style and means of the FCO's public communication". That is all fine as public relations, but where is the beef? Where is the real content? I hope that from now on the Government will concentrate less on the spin and more on the ongoing substance of what can be done with the millennium lottery money to ensure positive progress in Britain.

When I was Minister for the Arts when the millennium concept was started, I was keen on the idea that it should concentrate on our island's story. I thought that our precious waterways could be done up and our canals restored to provide cheap transport. Riverside warehouses could be repaired so that they could be used as video sites. New housing could be built on the brownland near our harbours. At the same time the appropriate sports could be developed: fishing, sailing, canoeing and so forth.

The idea was not favoured by the Millennium Commission, and, of course, as my noble friend Lord Peyton said, the finger of time has now moved on. Perhaps I may put a second thought. I hope the Minister will not mind if I take a further minute as I was more or less silenced for a minute or two.

My second thought is that the millennium lottery money should continue but that it should be used to develop programmes for Food for All in the 21st century, because it is surely extraordinary to think that, as we approach the new millennium, 750 million people go hungry in a world where food is plentiful. Surely there could be no greater challenge for the millennium than the transformation of agriculture in a way which stresses conservation as well as productivity. We should design "better" plants and animals, develop alternatives to inorganic fertilisers, improve soil and water management and enhance earning opportunities for the poor in the least developed countries.

If we in the rich countries do not do that, the numbers of poor and hungry will grow to perhaps another 2.5 billion in 25 years' time. If we play a creative part, we will have done something remarkable. We should remember Christopher Wren's son's words about St. Paul's Cathedral: "Si monumentum requiris, circumspice". The Prime Minister or Mr. Mandelson will never use those words about the dome, however much fun it is. But it would be a different story if Britain were able to help solve the interconnected problems of poverty, hunger and environmental degradation. The Government could then use those words.

4.46 p.m.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, I do not know what happened to the last speaker. I wear a deaf aid and I had a loud noise in my ear. We are debating the Millennium Dome at Greenwich. It reflects time. We have had the Christian religion for 2000 years. I would not like to argue about whether Christ was a man or divine. We are talking about religion in an historical context. I wonder how many people there are who have been persecuted by those of the Christian faith? If we are to be honest, a very great many. That is a matter of belief and faith. We should be honest. We do not want the dome being used as a method of propagating a certain religion. If we examine that religion and its effect on our civilisation we find that it is not good. After all, martyrs were burnt at the stake; for instance, Joan of Arc. People were crucified by religion. One of them, our so-called originator, was crucified by those of another religion.

We cannot continue to talk about the contributions which the Church has made. Some of the finest contributions made in our civilised world have been made not by Christians but by those who were condemned by Christians. That is amazing. It is ironic that the scientific discovery—the median line—which firmly established the fact that the world was round and was opposed by the Catholic Church was made in Greenwich.

I wish to turn to the history of the dome. The decision to build it was confirmed in June last year, but it had already been taken by the previous government. I do not know why those people who are critical of the present Government do not direct their forces at the previous government. This Government have continued the policy of the previous government and we did not bother about it.

The point that is being missed relates to the moral theme; the reason why the dome is being built, who is paying for it and what we are doing about it. I expected to hear the Church castigate the Government for the introduction on a huge scale of one of the most pernicious and evil practices in our world. I am talking about gambling. The money for the dome—£400 million, £500 million or probably £1 billion before it is finished—will come out of the lottery. Whose money goes into the lottery? It is not the fat cats who go down to the shop on the corner to buy a ticket. No, they are not the people who buy tickets. Those who buy tickets are the deprived people in our society who really believe that it will get them out of their dire straits and allow them to enjoy the kind of life enjoyed by the so-called richer people.

That is the real moral issue that we face. It is the most obscene thing I have heard, because we are spending millions of pounds on a building of this kind when at the same time the income of poorer people is being cut. I do not care whether those incomes are being cut because this government accepted the spending policies of the previous government. The proposal is obscene, evil and it should be stopped. The sooner we realise that this so-called civilised society about which we like to boast, and about which we would like to boast in the new millennium, has some very immoral trends which do not give a damn, the better. I believe that the dome personifies the ultimate materialism—materialism gone mad—started by the first Prime Minister of the previous government and now, I am afraid, being made almost permanent by some members of this Government.

4.53 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil for initiating this debate in his own particular way. I beg leave to doubt whether life was dull in his Ministry. The word "dome" derives from the Latin domus: a house, a home, a stately building and also a cathedral church. Like my noble friend Lord Peyton, I think it not unreasonable to expect some reference to our Christian tradition in the great new experience that awaits us in the dome. I suppose we should be relieved that, according to Mr. Mandelson: One of the three sectors of the outer ring—the doughnut, as I call it—is about our bodies, our minds and our souls and there will be opportunities for all faiths and none to find their sense of spirituality reflected in the experience". I hope that we shall not find this being expressed solely by rock groups, led perhaps by Mr. Prescott's water-pouring friend, or by a Heaven disco, or by some suitably multicultural raggas.

So far, the structure has put money in the pockets of German and American contractors. We have not heard about what it has done for major British contractors, but I hope that we will. I hope that it will be used to demonstrate British innovation and success.

I warmly welcomed the Millennium Commission's choice in February 1996 of Greenwich as the site for a Millennium Exhibition based on the theme of time. The borough of Greenwich has been campaigning for this since 1962 and the hoped for outcome is to be 7,000 new jobs, where there has been the worst economic decay in London, and 10,000 new homes. Derelict and contaminated land will be reclaimed, the water front will be developed, part of Greenwich will have World Heritage status and, not least, there will be for the first time good transport links.

All that is excellent, but there remains a question. What is the value of the dome? At least the Government have moved from accepting the extraordinary decision of their predecessors that the dome would operate for only a year—that is, until the year 2000—to keeping their options open and deciding in the year 2000 on its future use.

What is the point of the dome, which covers, incidentally, 50 of the 100 acres of the millennium site? Mr. Mandelson told the Culture, Media and Sports Committee in December 1997 that when the new government came in: We were concerned about the apparent absence of any idea of what would go in the Dome, the contents of it. The thing was being constructed, but it was very much a blank sheet". That, I suppose, should not surprise us since, as my noble friend Lord Peyton said, the bland optimism of its beginnings must be remembered. I suppose that giving birth to the dome was as much as could be managed.

Now Mr. Mandelson tells the Committee that he was saying to himself: Crikey, this is going to be absolutely dramatic. It is going to be fantastic. [There will be] multimedia technology—an element of live performance—10 different zones of interactive attraction which will really engage people, involve them, stimulate them". He goes on: When you move on to art and sport, and everything else that is new, you will be going through a vast, huge in scale, interactive attraction which comes under the working title 'Play at Surfboard, the new 21st century sport"'. Incidentally, the working title for the interactive exhibit is, Qualify for 20 jobs you never knew existed". Presumably, the interactive experience will include climbing in and out of the giant hermaphrodite's kidneys.

I hope that there will be plenty of examples of brilliant British information technology, artificial intelligence and so on, but I confess to a nasty suspicion that, although the theme is supposed to be time—the actual title is "Time to Make a Difference"—and one might have expected some of our not unremarkable historic achievements as a nation to be part of the Millennium Experience, we shall find that the clock starts only with Cool Britannia 1997. The dome will not be Byron's, ambitious airy hall, the dome of thought, the palace of the soul", but a modern structure apparently composed of a drum and a doughnut: a display area for the Spice Girls, no doubt, or for even cooler successors in the pop world, with perhaps a tunnel of love for BSkyB. The trouble with cool events is that they pass their sell-by date a good deal faster than the more durable events of a national history.

Of course there has to be a major historical attraction at the centre of the new development, but I confess that I share the reservation of the committee about the premise that there will be 7 million visitors a year. The entrance price is said to be "not cheap" and there will be no parking except for coaches. As families tend to travel by car, where will those from outside London park before they transfer, we hope, to the Jubilee Line? I do not know whether the committee has yet seen, on a confidential basis, the contingency plan or the details of the all-important private sponsorship. We are told that those sponsors exist, but not how much they are prepared to give.

I do wonder how the essential action by the British Tourist Board, British Airways and the other organisations which will need to publicise the tourist attractions of the dome can be achieved in time for the millennium date. However, in fairness, I must say that I have been told that they can happily wait until October, surprising as that seems.

Not least, there is an alarming plethora of committees, ministries, focus groups, action groups and so on all involved. Incidentally, I wish the commission very well. We need it to succeed. I suppose that Mr. Mandelson is in the driving seat. Has he a road map; or perhaps I should say a stopwatch which works? Greenwich had a clear vision. Mr. Mandelson's vision seems to me to be typical of the now familiar incoherence of the spin doctors in which the word "about" crops up with painful regularity.

I can only hope that Mr. Mandelson will heed the words of Richard von Weizsacker who said: Those who close their eyes to the past become blind to the present". Returning to Cool Britannia, the most probable formative influence on the contents of this £0.5 billion dome, did I tell your Lordships that the word "cool" also means a tub of butter—281bs to be precise?

5 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord Peyton for his introduction, in his own inimitable way, of this debate. I am concerned in this debate by the idea that a recognition if not a memorial of an event such as the arrival of the second millennium should be of such an ephemeral nature, however large it may be. Indeed, it is an enormous and impressive engineering structure. After all, the arrival of the millennium is an event of enormous significance not just in the Christian sense—and here I accept that the date is symbolic rather than accurate—but it is also an event of enormous importance in the secular sense.

It is to be an example of our achievements and inventions, of the progress of society and of our influence in the world at large. Those are indeed of immense importance and we can be truly proud of them. Why then do we deliberately raise a temporary structure which has a shelf life of only 25 years? Something like an exaggerated Bedouin tent, however close it may be to the meridian, is surely an unacceptable eyesore and irrelevant to the great symbolic event we are to celebrate. If one does accept that symbolism, surely the dome is not only inappropriate, but it is also grossly impertinent.

On the other hand, it could be regarded as an excellent example and perhaps a reflection of the impermanence of our society. But perhaps that is something that we should not wish to celebrate too much.

But that is on the negative side. It is right that we should celebrate the great inventiveness of our nation and perhaps it is a little ironic that we should be making such a fuss over a replacement for the hoover. However, we have developed the most advanced legal and social system which has been the model for new nations throughout the world for the past 200 years, while, incidentally, Europe in general has been struggling with a top-heavy Napoleonic system which it is now struggling to perpetuate.

Our efforts have been helped and guided by our Christian faith, a faith which is not entirely reflected for all of us by the Anglican Church. However, accepting that we are in a constant state of change, it is not surprising that Mother Church itself is having difficulties with the speed of change which is perhaps reflected in the sizzling speed of advance in the information technology field.

There we have our two most important bases—our contribution to civilisation and our Christian faith for the present society. Indeed, those may be the two most important factors. It does not seem to me that they require the dome.

Previous civilisations have built for the future. They built their pyramids, cathedrals and temples. In 25 years, we shall have nothing to show. It is easy to criticise from the comfort of these Benches, but I believe that we could have done better. However, as I have no proposal to put before your Lordships that in the time available would match the celebration which I envisage, I shall cease my carping and pray that that odious example of tat will be more than a funfair and will be a satisfactory lift to the souls of the great British public and our guests from overseas.

5.3 p.m.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, it is not every day that I find myself in broad agreement with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston. But his description of this whole Millennium Dome project is most aptly summed up in one word that he used: that is, "obscene". It is morally and totally wrong. It is not of lasting endurance.

We are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, for raising this matter and giving everybody an opportunity to air their views and perhaps give some cause to rethink before more millions and millions of pounds are wasted, leaving no lasting legacy through the next 100 years of the next millennium, let alone the next thousand years. It is entirely right that we should have this opportunity.

Reference has been made to the fact that the date of 1st January 2000 is indeed commonly regarded as the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of the Son of God. I reflect also that many of our greatest churches, if they do not exactly date from the beginning of the last millennium, at least date before it and some shortly after—Westminster, Durham, Ely and Salisbury. I mention only the large churches. I believe that I am right—and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich will correct me if I am wrong—to say that in Grantchester, or very close to it, is the oldest church still in use, which dates from about the Norman conquest.

If this country cannot afford £750 million today, and it will undoubtedly be substantially more when the thing is finished, would it not be correct to ensure that those churches, which reflect the birth of our Lord, should be put in such perfect order as the day on which they were built so that they will see this country through for another 1,000 years? Charity begins at home. It does not begin on a waste site in the south-east corner of London.

We are told that the roof of this edifice is likely to last only 25 years. Can anyone envisage that in 25 years time, another government will say, "We must put the roof back on this thing"?

The noble Lord, Lord Luke, expressed the wish that a political influence on and involvement in this exercise should be removed. I express the hope that there will be great political influence in this matter because I do not believe that the majority of people in this country want to see such vast sums of money squandered on something of such short-lived duration. For that reason I say that if, as I find it highly likely, the Labour Party is still in office in the year 2000, an awful lot of political brownie points will be lost to it if the project goes ahead. Although I speak from these Benches, it must not be thought that I am particularly inclined towards the Labour Party. If I were inclined with feelings anywhere, it would be towards the party with which I had the honour to sit for many years in your Lordships' House. But I believe that many bad marks will be gained by the political party in office if this project goes ahead.

Have we thought of the transport? That matter has been raised by other noble Lords. I thought that we wanted to try to reduce the number of cars being used in this country. But what are we to have? Millions of pounds will be spent on a car park, instead of an environmentally-friendly and substantially improved public transport system to the site, if it goes ahead. Again, I believe that that is not in keeping with the present thoughts which seem to emerge from the Government at present.

The Festival of Britain left us a legacy; namely, to promote the arts. The Government of this country donate the same amount of money to assist the arts as is given to the state opera in Hamburg. Indeed, that amount covers the whole of the arts spectrum in Great Britain, and it seems to me that that is the wrong direction and the wrong train of thought. I hope that we shall cut our losses and that this project will be reconsidered.

5.10 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I very much hope that the dome will end up by being as fascinating as the speech that my noble friend Lord Peyton made when opening the debate. Indeed, I thank him warmly for doing so. The dome is certainly one method of celebrating the anniversary that we have been discussing. This is not a party political matter, as both the previous government and this Government have supported it.

The first part of my noble friend's Motion relates to cost. Perhaps I may mention that there are many arguments which state that the money would be better spent in feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and educating the illiterate. I very much hope that this Government will do both. I look forward to the Government increasing their aid programme as they have promised. I also look forward to hearing the Answer to a Question tomorrow morning as regards their progress in that respect. I am glad that we are going to construct a marker which will clearly identify—and be remembered as a marker—the person whose anniversary we will celebrate; namely, the Lord Jesus Christ who is perhaps the only person alive today who was alive 2,000 years ago.

I hope that the Minister will be able to help me as regards the question of the length of life of the dome. I thought it could have a length of life of 50 years, but reference was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, to the term of 25 years. My noble friend Lord Peyton referred to a short life span and, indeed, one noble Lord mentioned that the dome would be demolished by the year 2001. When he replies, perhaps the Minister can tell the House how long the dome will last.

I turn now to the question of "accessibility", which also forms part of the Motion. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an update on the state of the Jubilee line and its present timetable. To travel to the dome on that line will be both practical and dull, while travelling by the water bus will be exciting, interesting and sometimes extremely dodgy bearing in mind the winds that we had last weekend. Indeed, I think that I would perhaps prefer to travel by the Jubilee line.

The main point of issue is, of course, the content of the dome. I hope that it will look back over the past 2,000 years and cover the country's progress and failures. I certainly take into account what the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, said about the failures of people who call themselves Christians and have done many appalling things. However, nothing will disparage the person of Jesus Christ whose anniversary we will be celebrating. I also hope that we can look forward to what the future holds and that the dome will enable people, especially the young, not just to see events but also to experience them. I am not looking for a Disney-type of programme, but one which is educational. Indeed, several noble Lords have mentioned the expansion of knowledge through the dome. I trust that it will be thoroughly purposeful as well as interesting.

I should like to make one specific suggestion to the Minister; namely, that I hope the Government will include in the dome a portrayal of their anticipated progress for the UK over the next 20 years leading up to, for example, "Welfare 2020", as set out in the welfare Green Paper. Visitors will then be able to monitor the progress that the Government are making as regards their proposals for the next 20 years.

I am told that there are very good relationships between, on the one hand, the New Millennium Experience Company and the Government and, on the other hand, other interested parties, such as the Churches. I am very grateful and appreciative of that fact. I hope that those discussions will continue amicably and fruitfully. Of course, this will not be the main Churches' celebration; indeed, there will be many others involved. However, it is good that the Churches are involved in the dome.

We are fast approaching Easter and I have been reading about the contrast between what some people call the "vacuous dome" and the "empty tomb" of Christ. The empty tomb is a symbol of faith in divine power. I trust that the dome will not be vacuous but that it will be thoroughly inspiring.

5.15 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Peyton has an established reputation as a scourge of governments, both Conservative and Labour. Today he was, as usual, at his most effective; indeed, he is a sort of one-man Select Committee. In listening to his robust opening speech—and very witty it was, too—I was reminded of the character who slew the Jabberwock: One, two! One, two! And through and through The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing hack". I hope that that is not what will happen to the dome or the Millennium Experience. But, listening to some of the apocalyptic suggestions that have been made today, I must admit that I wonder.

The debate has ranged very largely over the spiritual, which is obviously extremely important. Indeed, I agree with what has been said. However, for the few minutes at my disposal, I should like to deal with the practical. I shall begin with the contents of the dome. This seems to be entirely in the hands of the Minister without Portfolio, so admirably represented in this House by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who is the Minister for many portfolios. Indeed, there are so many of them that I am afraid I have lost count. But no doubt the noble Lord will be able to remind me of them at a later stage.

While we await the great announcement regarding the contents of the dome, I sometimes feel like some sort of spectator at a conjuring show as I wonder whether the Minister will produce several rabbits out of a hat or whether he has some card tricks up his sleeve. I hope that we shall hear something about when the great contents of this important experience will be announced.

I have one suggestion for the Minister. Only last week the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who spoke earlier, was searching for a location for the statue of Raleigh, which seems to be a very vexed question. Perhaps one location for the statue would be inside the dome because it is situated in Greenwich which is a great maritime location and, indeed, Raleigh was an important explorer. However, I suspect that that suggestion will find its own level, as yet another non-event.

My other practical point relates to transportation, which was mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lord Luke and more recently by my noble friend Lord Brentford. There seem to be serious problems with the Jubilee line, which has always been considerably under-capitalised. It has also had technical difficulties. Therefore, I hope that we shall hear some good news in that respect and that we shall be told that it will be completed well in time. I say that because, without the line, there will be serious congestion. The alternative of course is to travel by way of the river. I find river transportation to be a most exciting and attractive possibility. The river buses were started some years ago but they came to an end. That was partly because, again, they were under-capitalised and partly because the service was rather infrequent. Will the Government be able to guarantee that there will be a sufficient volume of river buses travelling up and down this important water highway, as that will make a great difference? It is an effective and ecologically sound system of transportation.

Those are merely a couple of suggestions. The Millennium Experience will undoubtedly take place. There is no way that it can be stopped although one or two noble Lords have suggested that. We want to ensure that it is a success, not a failure, and that it is something of which the nation can be proud.

5.20 p.m.

Viscount Thurso

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, for the opportunity to debate this important matter, not least because there has been so much inaccurate speculation on the subject of the Millennium Experience both in the press and elsewhere, and this debate gives us an opportunity to lance that boil and to hear from the Minister some of the facts that pertain to the dome.

It seems to me that the Millennium Experience, or one's views on it, are certainly not a party matter. As I have listened to the debate in your Lordships' House I have detected a division across all parties as between those who are for it and those who are against it. One could say that there are "domosceptics" and "domophiles". I believe that your Lordships' House has demonstrated a clear "domosceptic" tendency this afternoon. There does not appear to be too many in the "domophile" camp. I hope that over a period of time we may be able to change that. On my Benches I know that there is quite a strong "domosceptic" tendency. I count myself fully, clearly and absolutely in the "domophile" camp. I make that declaration most happily. I was, and am, in favour of the concept. I am in favour of the site; I like the project and I like what it is intended to achieve. Therefore I am "outed".

However, I have serious concerns regarding the execution of the project on which I wish to ask the Minister some questions. I recognise that he may not be able to answer all of them today. If time does not permit him to do so, I hope that he will write to me. Before I mention those concerns, I wish to touch on the spiritual side of the matter which has been mentioned this afternoon. I had not intended to talk about it at all as I had not anticipated that the debate would go in that direction. However, a number of noble Lords have made valid points in that regard. I am a practising Christian and a member of the Church of Scotland. I believe that we ought to distinguish between a secular celebration about a point in time, on the one hand, and the 2,000th birthday of Christ, on the other. I believe it is perfectly appropriate to hold a more secular celebration in the dome and, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, so rightly pointed out, to let the Churches celebrate the 2,000th birthday of our Lord Jesus.

We must take into account that we are a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society. It is important that no one should be excluded from the Millennium Experience. As regards the experience, there are two excellent precedents, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out. I recently attended an exhibition illustrating the restoration of the Albert Memorial and I discovered some interesting facts. I discovered that the Great Exhibition cost £12,000 to mount. It would be interesting to know the equivalent sum in today's money. That exhibition made a profit which enabled the commissioners to buy land near the exhibition which became known as "Albertopolis" and houses the Victoria and Albert Museum and many other buildings. Somehow "Mandelsonville" does not have the same ring to it. Of course, the Festival of Britain also attracted many visitors.

I shall now discuss the concerns that I have. First, on the question of finance, the total budget for the project is £758 million, of which £399 million is to be provided by lottery grant and £359 million by sponsorship, commercial deals, merchandise and so on. I have had small responsibility for a number of projects and I have managed to run over budget on one or two of them. On a far bigger scale we have seen what has happened with some public projects, for example the British Library, the Channel Tunnel and a few others that have run way over budget. How much of the budget for this project has been spent? Is that portion adjudged to be within the budget? What is the size of the contingency which the budget contains? How much, if any, of it has been spent? Does the Millennium Experience Company confidently expect to achieve its budget goal? Is it still on target?

Further, we assume that the £399 million of lottery grant is safe. However, the other £359 million may be less reliable. I understand that the sponsorship comprises chunks of £12 million. That is a great deal of money and a high target for any sponsor to have to produce. How many sponsors have been signed up, and does the Minister feel that is progressing well? Can the Minister tell us the breakdown of the sponsorship money within each of the zones? In other words, how much of the money will be spent on infrastructure and how much on what one might describe as "what the customer sees", as clearly the sponsors will not be able to commence their projects until they know how much money they have to spend?

My second general area of concern has already been mentioned by a number of noble Lords; namely, access to the site, and in particular transport. I warmly commend the decision—I believe everyone on these Benches commends that decision—that it should be essentially a car-free site. In the middle of our capital where there is so much public transport it is appropriate that that should be the preferred method for transporting people to the site. However, as has been pointed out, that will depend very much on the successful completion of the extension to the Jubilee Line. I believe that is due to be completed in spring next year. Can the Minister give us some assurance on that point?

Not long ago the All-Party Tourism Group was given a briefing by one of the operators, who told us that the 35,000 people who are estimated to attend each session is roughly equivalent to the same number of people who travel by tube each day to Harrods. That puts the whole thing into perspective somewhat; it is not such a difficult target after all. However, I would like some reassurance on that point. A great number of visitors will travel to the site from outside the capital. They may even travel down from Thurso, as I have done today. What arrangements are being made to put in place through-ticketing facilities? Is it possible to provide a through-ticket to take me from Thurso by plane and by tube to the millennium site?

My third area of concern is one that I also view as an area of great opportunity; namely, tourism. Clearly there are huge opportunities for the Millennium Experience to boost tourism in the country. The BTA estimates that about £500 million will flow into the country directly as a result of this project. However, London First has predicted a 20,000-bed shortage in London. What thought has been given to the pressure that will be put on beds? Is the BTA taking any action in that regard? Clearly many domestic visitors will choose to visit the Millennium Experience rather than visit some other leisure or tourist activity in the United Kingdom. There is therefore a danger that much tourist spending within the United Kingdom will take place in London when that money might have been spent elsewhere. That is a challenge for the English Tourist Board. It would be interesting to know what the English Tourist Board plans to do in that regard.

In his excellent contribution, my noble friend Lord Newby mentioned many of the benefits to Greenwich and the area, one of which I should like to touch on. I refer to the possibility of the dome being retained at its present site and used as a conference centre for London. I very much hope that it will be retained at its present site. As a hotelier practising in London, I know that a proper conference centre in London is very much missing. The site, though not perfect, would afford a very good opportunity for such a centre. It would be a most useful contribution to the capital.

The only other danger that I can foresee is that we have now reached the point when it is time to let the operators operate and the managers manage. If one is to believe the press—not something I do very often—there seems to be a danger that the Minister without Portfolio is moving the goalposts on a fairly regular basis. I hope the reports are untrue. If they are not, I urge the Minister to resist, since I believe that we have now reached the point when the operators should operate.

I come back to where I started. I am firmly "domophile". I wish it the greatest possible success; I am sure that it will be a success. I look forward to hearing from the Minister the facts that will back that up.

5.31 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, I too join with other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil for making this debate possible and for opening it in his inimitable fashion.

The debate has shown that the Millennium Dome arouses decidedly mixed feelings. I confess that I am what the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, called a "domosceptic". Everyone agrees that we should mark our entry into the third Christian Millennium with important and memorable events. But doubts are bound to arise when we move from the general to the particular, and many have surfaced in the past two hours. Even those of your Lordships who have wholeheartedly supported the project believe that it can be improved and have made many valuable suggestions to that end.

Many of the doubts stem from a basic disquiet about the conception and position of the dome itself. I know I am not supposed to say anything against the dome, because it was thought up by the previous government. Still, we cannot avoid the topic altogether since most of the practical problems which your Lordships have raised refer back to the original decision.

To start with, is there not something ironic about a structure to mark the dawn of a millennium which is programmed to last for 25 years at most? It is ironic, but natural, I think, because the dome has no purpose beyond itself. The great public buildings of the past, whether religious or secular—our cathedrals and parish churches, our great civic buildings—were built for use. They had a function; they were set in centres of population. The noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, reminded us that the 1851 exhibition was held in the heart of fashionable Mayfair. But the dome has no function, no use, nor have the Government any plans for it beyond the year 2000. It is a magnificent empty shell covering 20 acres, the ultimate expression of an architect's ego, aggressively situated in its own remote and isolated space.

My noble friend Lord Renton and the noble Lords, Lord Newby and Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, pointed to the local benefits which Greenwich will receive as a result of the dome, and I welcome that, but we are discussing the dome, not the area of Greenwich. As my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth said, what is the point of the dome? The dome was commissioned first; then they had to think about how it was to be paid for, how people were to get to it and, above all, what they were going to put into it. That was all the wrong way round. It is a triumph of fantasy over reality; yet we are meant to be a practical people.

It is the practical aspects of the project which we have been discussing today. Naturally enough, your Lordships have expressed concern about the cost, none more passionately than the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston. The dome is expected to cost £758 million, a colossal sum, which is bound to overrun—it always does. Of this, £399 million will come from the National Lottery, distributed by the Millennium Commission. Almost half of the national budget of the Millennium Commission will go to this single project. Was this the right message to send to the regions? Does it not reinforce the impression that a London-based Parliament will always think first and foremost of London, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich said, and, what is more, of a politically correct London, as my noble friend Lady O'Cathain said?

Stephen Bayley, the former creative director of the so-called experience, said that he could have created a stunning exhibition and building for £100 million. What is the Minister's response to that? I look forward with much interest to hearing it.

Sponsors are supposed to provide an extra £150 million. The figure of £75 million has been mentioned as already committed, but the last figure I had was £58 million. What is the actual figure to date and what realistic hopes are there of obtaining the rest? What further inducements will the Government have to offer to obtain the rest? In fact, £194 million is expected to come from ticket sales and what is called merchandising and licensing, although this estimate wholly depends on the number of visitors. Naturally, we are worried about the costs. Having just been involved in the passage through this House of the National Lottery Bill, as the Minister well knows, I fear that more and more National Lottery money will be diverted to this experience from the other very good deserving causes.

My noble friend Lord Luke dealt ably and eloquently with the problem of access, which is the key to visitor numbers. I completely share the excitement of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, about river transport and its possibilities. I wish to ask just one question: when will the Jubilee Line be finished? The date for completion is always being pushed back. It was once expected to open this spring; then it was pushed back to September. The new opening date is now spring 1999. Have we any guarantee at all that this section of the line will be operational by the time the experience is meant to start? The Channel Tunnel is not exactly a comforting precedent. How much will this line, with its enormous capacities, be used after 2000? That is another point on which I would be interested to have the Minister's reply.

These problems are reinforced by doubts about the content and what will go into the 20 acres. Many of your Lordships have pointed to the absence of an adequate Christian content. Indeed, I believe that that has been generally regretted. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, made a telling attack on the cultural nullity of the project, its ephemeral character. My noble friend Lady Park asked whether Peter Mandelson has a road map. No, but he has recently visited Disneyworld. I do not know to what extent the contents of the glossy brochure Millennium: Time to make a difference—which I recommend that all noble Lords should read if they have not done so already—reflect his experiences there. Written in ad-man's babble, it tells us excitedly about the great experiences the estimated 12 million visitors can expect in the 13 exhibition zones. In the mind zone they will be able to, Discover the creative power inherent in us all". In the body zone they will, learn how to get the best from the human machine. They can open up their minds to life-long learning, travel around the British Isles and try out their skills, including their talking skills. No doubt exhausted by these invigorating activities, they will then be able to relax in a, restful landscape of smooth pebble shapes", before ascending, refreshed, to something called the spirit level to reflect on, the values that underpin our society". Are you not all longing to go?

I recommend this vainglorious, empty production to anyone who has not yet seen it. I have rarely felt so depressed or ashamed when I read it—its poverty of language; and the thinness of its inspiration; what my noble friend Lord Elton called its "tattiness". My noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry, asked, "Where's the beef?" The noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, called it obscene for its vast cost and the impermanence of its designs. Give me Disneyworld any day. At least it tries to connect the present to the past, and to peer into the scientific future. Here there is no sense of the past, no sense of the triumphs and tragedies of the last millennium to inspire and warn us as we enter the next. And no sense really of the future: at Greenwich, the home of time, time is dissolved into the politically correct present.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, mentioned France. How much more confident in their culture and judgments are the French. I have been looking through their plans for the millennium. I shall not go into them, but the basic equivalent of the dome will house three major international exhibitions devoted to contemporary art, a portrayal of the major intellectual movements and events in French history, and a collection of masterpieces from all over the world, with equivalent supporting tableaux.

Surely we have more to be proud of in the past, more to offer the future than pebble shapes in restful gardens and Godless spirit levels. My noble friend Lord Peyton reminded us that this is a Christian occasion. But the absence of any adequate recognition of this fact is only the most blatant of the many omissions in the project. Whatever else it exists to do, the dome has certainly not set out to praise our famous men or women.

In the change of governments—I am sorry to interject a political note, but I think it is appropriate—the dome has become the symbol of the emptiness of new Labour. We have a teflon Prime Minister and his monument will be a teflon dome—a magnificent shell built for him by the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, full of hot air supplied by Peter Mandelson. What could have been a memorable event has become a branch of showbiz, a toy of admen and spin-doctors: structure without purpose, form without content, hype without substance—a grandiloquent statement with nothing to say; a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

I urge the Government to take serious note of the suggestions that have been made in the debate and avoid the coming mess.

5.40 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, for introducing the debate. I am not as depressed as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, about the tone of the debate, despite the last speech. I never feel that scripted abuse goes down terribly well in this House. The noble Viscount made a distinction between "domosceptics" and "domophiles". I counted five unregenerate "domosceptics": my noble friend Lord Sefton, the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, above all. There are some who perhaps might be called reformed "domosceptics" like the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain; and I thought to some extent, because he was judicious in this, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. But the majority of the 19 speakers, with proper and responsible reservations, were on the whole in the camp of the "domophiles" and I am grateful for that.

It is important that we should have these debates in Parliament and it is important that they take place, as this one does now, just over a year since the first announcement was made. It will be recalled that the last Conservative administration had the support of my colleagues in Opposition, who recognised the significance of the year 2000 and the opportunity it provides to make a great public statement about the Britain in which we live (and what is wrong with statements being in physical form as well as human form? I did not understand that point) and the world we are going to live in as the new millennium dawns.

In January last year the project did not have planning permission and work had not begun to clear the site of 150 years' worth of polluting chemicals. The operating company had a small board and an energetic chief executive but little else—no staff, no money, no offices and no business plan. It was very different from what we see today. The site at Greenwich is clear, and I can assure noble Lords who are concerned that it has been approved by the Environmental Agency as clear of pollution. The dome is growing before our eyes. The roof is now being unfurled. A large proportion of the content has been announced to the public and designers are continuing to work on the fine detail; and under the excellent management of the board and chief executive—I shall name the chairman of the board for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, Bob Ayling of British Airways, and the chief executive, Jenny Page—the project is on time and within budget.

When this Government decided in June of last year to back the experience, we made five clear commitments. The first was that the experience would cost no more to the taxpayer than the sum already committed to prepare the site. The second was that the contents would entertain and inspire. The third was that the experience would be a truly national event. The fourth was that it would provide a lasting legacy. The fifth was that the management structure of the company would be strengthened by the best creative and business talents available. That is a challenging task and I wish to report now to the House on each of those five commitments.

On cost, the project is developing well within the budget we have set it. In addition to the £399 million lottery grant, the company, in partnership with government, is working with a large number of major corporate sponsors. Seventy-five million pounds (not £58 million) of sponsorship has now been committed and the company is well on its way to reaching its £150 million target. British Telecom, Manpower, Tesco and Sky have made substantial commitments, each making contributions of at least £12 million to the project. The amount of £12 million is not a minimum sum for participation in sponsorship. The British Airports Authority, British Airways and the Corporation of the City of London are also committed to the project and the company is in serious discussions with another 40 companies for smaller amounts. On all those matters, we are on target for the lottery grant and for sponsorship; and that will appear when the new Millennium Experience Company publishes its corporate plan in due course. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Park, of the 22 major contractors for the site, 21 of them are UK-based.

On the contents, of course there will be different views. Everyone in advance of seeing the content plans is entitled to fear, with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that there could be infinite triviality. But seven of the main exhibits were presented to sponsors and the press at the Festival Hall on 24th February. I saw them some time before that. I have to say, as one of those who was understandably nervous about the contents, as any sane and rational person would be, I was, again to quote the noble Lord, Lord Annan, surprised and delighted.

Having seen what I saw—it was only at a very early stage—I felt that it is something that I and my family and friends would not only want to go to once but would wish to return to on several occasions. I thought that the ones I saw were high quality. They breathed life into the central and core themes. They showed the ingenuity, imagination and talent of young British designers. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, that they are certainly not only for the under-40s. I appreciate that she is approaching the age of 40, as I am approaching the age of 65, but the exhibitions are for me as well as for her. I hope that she will enjoy them in due course.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, made an interesting proposal that the Government should present a 20-year plan in the dome. I like the suggestion that we shall be in power for 20 years, but some of his noble friends might be nervous at the suggestion that we should put forward such political propaganda.

The next commitment which we made was on national impact. The most important thing I have to say is that 80 per cent. of millennium expenditure will be outside the dome in other parts of the country. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, is quite understandably afraid of people being excluded. The national programme was the least developed part of the Millennium Experience under the last government, but we have been working hard to ensure that there will be a wealth of events and activities around the country.

There are two separate strands to the company's nationwide programme. The Millennium Challenge is the umbrella title for a series of major artistic, sporting and heritage initiatives which the company is supporting around the United Kingdom during the years before 2000. These will complement what goes on at Greenwich and link into individual zones within the dome.

There are participatory projects already well developed such as Our Town's Story, in partnership with local education authorities, which will involve children putting together histories of local communities. I hope that will be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford. The Millennium Generation, in partnership with BBC local radio and the British Library is an ambitious oral history programme. I hope this will help to build up the legacy which we believe will be provided by the millennium. Living on the Line will link people and places in eight countries along the Meridian line. I hope that it will address the issue of world poverty, which was properly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry.

The company is also contributing £20 million to a £100 million Millennium Festival of celebratory projects in the year 2000. All the lottery distributors—the Millennium Commission, arts councils, sports councils, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Lottery Charities Board—are also taking part. We warmly welcome this millennium spirit of co-operation between the distributors.

Finally, around the country, from 1st May this year we shall set up one-stop shops for each country of the UK, receiving proposals for festival projects. We may stop short of paying for fireworks and parties, but we hope that a wide range of projects will apply, including artistic exhibitions and performances, sporting contests, heritage and charitable initiatives and religious events.

A number of noble Lords quite properly referred to the legacy which would be left behind. The physical legacy of the experience is becoming clearer as each day passes. One only needs to visit Greenwich to see the regenerative impact of the investment, the improvements to transport infrastructure, the creation of jobs, particularly in Greenwich, and a sense of local pride in what is being achieved.

A number of noble Lords made contrasts between 1851 and 1951. Of course, the Crystal Palace, being moved, survived for a long time until sadly it was burnt down. In 1951, apart from the Royal Festival Hall, most of the exhibition—the Skylon and the Dome of Discovery—was rapidly removed by the incoming Conservative Government in case it might serve as a memorial to Herbert Morrison. My honourable friend Peter Mandelson did not pay for that testimonial!

I was asked about the physical structure of the dome and whether it will last for only 25 years. There was only one preceding dome. It is in California, it is over 25 years old and is showing no signs of age. Let us hope the dome can last much longer than 25 years, certainly the steel structure can last at least 60 years. It can be dismantled or moved; it is perfectly possible for it to stay there. The suggestion of a convention centre made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, is a sensible one which we shall take seriously. The dome could go somewhere else and it could have a considerable life into the new millennium. I am not at all afraid of the judgment of history about something so remarkable in itself which so many people from this country and around the world will see and of which they will be proud in the coming years.

I referred to the management of the dome and the Millennium Experience. That commitment is being well fulfilled by the existing management. A number of noble Lords referred to the transport to and accessibility of the dome. Of course, it is on a regained site, surrounded on three sides by water. We have the commitment of London Underground that the Jubilee Line will run a through service from Stanmore to Stratford via Greenwich well before the opening of the Millennium Dome. The travel time on that will be approximately 12 minutes from central London. It will almost certainly be on fixed block signalling rather than on the more experimental signalling, but that may be a relief to some of your Lordships.

On river services, we have done a great deal. I am not sure how many noble Lords observed that the Deputy Prime Minister announced on 16th March that, as part of his Thames 2000 initiative, £21 million was being allocated to boost new passenger transport services on the Thames. I hope that that will reassure the noble Lord, Lord Luke, and the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery. We expect a million people to travel by boat from central London. There will be new piers and new river services and there will also be a certain number of park-and-ride facilities, although, as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said, it is our intention for it to be a car-free zone except for the severely disabled and essential workers.

There will be integrated ticketing. It will be possible to buy coach, rail and air experience tickets at the local supplier of transport and Camelot will act as agents. So there will be an outlet within three miles for 95 per cent. of the population.

I hope I am being given extra time, because the microphones went down, to talk about the religious aspect of the millennium. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, challenged me to say what was a spiritual experience. I started to think of that distinguished man of the cloth, Sydney Smith, for whom it was eating foie gras to the sound of trumpets. However, I decided not. Now it is listening to John Peyton at the top of his form.

Perhaps I may say something about the religious aspect of the millennium. The Government fully recognise that the millennium is a Christian anniversary and want to see a proper acknowledgement of the Christian heritage of the country in the celebrations, including at Greenwich. Reference was made to the Spirit Zone and, as the right reverend Prelate said, Christian elements in other parts of the content of the zones. The suggestion about Jubilee 2000 and third world debt is appropriate.

However, Britain is a multi-faith society and the Government are determined to ensure that the celebrations are relevant and accessible to those who are adherents to other faiths or who have no formal religious beliefs. The year 2000 will, after all, be significant to people who use the Gregorian calendar.

Through a consultation group which meets at Lambeth Palace, the Government, the Millennium Commission and the New Millennium Experience Company have built a good working relationship with the Churches and other faith groups in respect of millennium planning. The group has produced a document giving guidelines to events organisers on how millennium celebrations can be made inclusive of Christians and adherents of other faiths. The Lambeth Group has also produced a document setting out the spiritual values which it wishes to see enshrined in the Millennium Experience at Greenwich. The New Millennium Experience Company is giving this serious consideration and is taking the advice of expert witnesses from the Churches during these critical months.

The company is considering various ways in which the Christian heritage of this country can be incorporated within the experience and its national programme and is looking into the options for providing worship spaces for different faiths. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Minister without Portfolio have all stressed that spiritual as well as physical renewal should be a key theme. That is something which the Minister without Portfolio stressed in his recent constructive meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I do not have time to deal with the wide variety of Church projects which the Millennium Commission and other lottery grant-giving bodies are providing. But I am pleased to agree with the right reverend Prelate that the dome is not the most important part of Christian millennium celebrations. The Churches are planning a wide variety of events and activities for the year 2000 focused on Pentecost weekend in that year.

In the time available I hope that I have answered the majority of questions raised in this valuable and important debate. We believe that it is an important and essential reaffirmation of our confidence in ourselves, our belief and our understanding of who we are and what we may be in the future. I express again my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, for raising the issue.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, far be it from me to say anything except "thank you". I have always regarded it as total rashness for anybody moving a Motion of this kind to reply at the end. I have no intention of doing so. I am grateful to all those who took part. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.