The Tough v the Toff (Part 2)
24 May 2000
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Can I take the Deputy Prime Minister back to the dome? Is he aware that 50 of his hon. Friends have signed an early-day motion expressing "deep concern and alarm" that the decision to give an extra £29 million to the millennium dome will deprive the New Opportunities Fund of moneys that would otherwise go to education, health and the environment?

Does he share those concerns?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am sure that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) did not sign the motion. The dome idea was established by the previous Administration, endorsed by this Administration and, as I understand it, by the Cabinet of the Government of whom the right hon. Gentleman was a member. We have to be clear that money from the Millennium Commission does not compete with that for hospitals and schools. It is not able to give resources to hospitals and schools. So far, none of the resources provided has denied funds to either hospitals or schools. That is the challenge for us; we think that we have achieved it in the dome.

Sir George Young: Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the Labour Minister who said that the dome would be
the first big test of competence for the Labour Government? He should recognise that because it was him. He also said:
If we can't make this work, we're not much of a Government.

As he is in charge for the next two weeks, will he overrule the decision of the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary to give £29 million more public money to the dome?

The Deputy Prime Minister: No, I will not. On the right hon. Gentleman's point about my comments on whether the dome would be a success and that that should be a measure of the Government's competence, I happen to believe that it has been a success. It is the second most attractive facility to visitors. Almost 6 million people have visited the facility. That is a huge amount of people. More than 80 per cent. of those asked whether they had enjoyed the facility said that they had, and many of them intend to return to it. For a facility that celebrated the millennium, it has been successful in attracting visitors. I might say that it enjoys--apparently--the full support of the Leader of the Opposition who, on the first day of this year, made it clear that we should all get behind it and support it.

Sir George Young: If the dome has been such a success, why are so many people being sacked? The contents of the dome stand as a monument to the vanity and emptiness of new Labour. First, the Government blamed the chief executive, and sacked her. Then, they blamed the chairman, and sacked him. Is it not time that someone in this Government had the courage to stand up, take responsibility and resign?

The Deputy Prime Minister: We inherited a business plan that had been prepared by the previous Administration--we endorsed it. That plan estimated that 12 million people would visit the facility. The latest estimate is between 6 million and 7 million people, which shows that such a facility is highly successful in attracting people. In those circumstances, hon. Members on both sides of the House should recognise the large measure of agreement in setting up the project. Seven million people is nearly as many as the number who voted for the Tory party at the election, something which must be taken into account. If the right hon. Gentleman feels that the dome is a monument to what he calls new Labour, what sort of monument to the previous Administration is rail privatisation, which he introduced?
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Copyright Sir George Young Bt. 2015