HL Deb 21 February 2000 vol 610 cc1-3

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the arrangements for free visits by schoolchildren to the Millennium Dome; and from what sources these visits are subsidised.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, every school in the UK is eligible to apply for up to 100 free tickets to the Dome under the New Millennium Experience Company's education tour scheme. Up to 1 million free tickets will be allocated over a series of ballots. The costs attributable to this scheme, including its administration, the tickets themselves and the management costs of implementing it throughout the year are being met by the New Millennium Experience Company from the millennium experience project budget.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reply. I recognise that the Government must now concentrate primarily on paying visitors to the Dome. What was the Government's reaction to the reports in the press earlier this month of the disappointment of children and their teachers at not being allowed into more than three specified zones—the duller ones, apparently? As regards the education contribution of the Dome, when will it be reclassified from being an exhibition to being a museum?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the arrangements for the free entry of schoolchildren are a matter for the management of the New Millennium Experience Company. However, I think it would be wrong to suggest that the experience has been boring. I have a number of quotes describing what incredibly good fun and what a good educational experience it was for people who have visited the Dome. As to the point about being kept out of the more interesting zones, as the noble Lord put it, the majority of the people who enter the Dome free on school trips have free time there after they have completed the four-hour guided tour when they can go to any zone they wish.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, has the target number of visitors been reduced from 12 million to 10 million, as newspapers have suggested, and are those all paying visitors?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the break-even figure has been put at 10 million; the target figure is 12 million, all of whom comprise paying customers.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that my grandchildren went to the Dome, had a perfectly lovely time and could not have enjoyed it more but were extremely disappointed that so many of the things they wanted to examine or play with were out of order?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for saying what a good time her grandchildren had. I suggest, with respect, that most adults and children who attend the Dome say they have had such an experience. The visitor attraction has been operating since 1st January. It now receives probably more visitors than any other visitor attraction in the whole country. It is not perhaps surprising that glitches occur that need to be sorted out. We are in the process of doing that and as every day goes by it gets better and better.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, does not the Minister think that even children's toys are expected to last more than two months? The Minister tells us that it is not at all surprising that things are not working too well. However, only a short period of operation has elapsed and I understand that the whole project is to last only a year.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, with the greatest respect that is an unfair comment. It is not in the least surprising that things need maintenance in a visitor attraction which attracts literally in excess of tens of thousands of visitors every day. They are being maintained.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord accept that my children's toys rarely last more than two days? Does he also accept their comment that they enormously enjoyed their visit to the Dome but felt that there was a lot of room for additional educational content? At many exhibits, for instance, the body zone, there was little explanation of what was going on. Their visit would have been more enjoyable if there had been something else to learn from.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, some people say that there is not enough educational content; some people say that there is not enough fun content; and some people say that there is not enough inspirational content. I think that the best course is to leave it to the management to determine the right balance.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, does the Minister feel that the "Black Adder" film is appropriate for children to see? It is certainly not something that I would have expected my grandchildren to see. Will be use his influence to ensure that something more appropriate is shown? It is a great wasted opportunity.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I do not know how old the noble Lord's grandchildren are. If my children were told that they could not watch "Black Adder" because it is too mature for them, they would be extremely surprised.

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